Despite those responsibilities, Bilal secretly submits a college application and takes up ice carving in order to win a scholarship. What ensues is a character-driven story about the chaos in the life of a teenager having to deal with adult situations while also seeking order and balance in his life.
Like the lead character, played convincingly by Julian Gant, Sharrief, a Muslim raised in Michigan, is able to capture the intricacies of Muslim and mainstream life while not passing judgment on either. Bilal literally drives other people to their destinies in his cab, while his own destiny has been determined, despite his desire for a better life and education. The ending of Bilal’s Stand is complicated: happiness tinged with sadness, showing the complexity of real-life compromises instead of the classic Hollywood ending where all ends well despite the challenges.
What we like: It is a great story with strong performances that show black Muslim culture that isn’t part of the Nation of Islam. What we don’t like: The images of women are pretty harsh and lack the sensitivity shown to the male characters. The film is based on a true story, so Sharrief is representing his reality at that time, but still, it can be hard to watch. Go here for the trailer.
Even the Rain
También la lluvia (Even the Rain) takes a familiar trope — it’s a movie about making a movie — and places it in an unfamiliar location: the lush and verdant forests of Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Mexican heartthrob Gael García Bernal plays Sebastien, a director who’s hell-bent on making a movie about Christopher Columbus, a revisionist history that takes the explorer down a notch or five, showing him to be a murdering, raping and pillaging kind of guy. Sebastien and his penurious producer, Costa (Luis Tosar), have picked Bolivia because it’s cheap and filled with a bunch of indigenous folks who are happy to work as extras for two bucks a day. Beautiful locale, cheap labor, great story — it’s all good, right?
Except that one of the actors playing an Indian leader, Daniel, is also an activist. An activist on a mission. Bolivia has sold off the water rights to a major corporation, and the people are now forced to pay a steep price for their water. Wells are nailed shut. Led by Daniel, the people of Cochabamba take to the streets in protest, shutting down the city and throwing Sebastien’s film in peril. After Daniel is beaten and imprisoned and then released, Sebastien and Costa are faced with a life-and-death moral dilemma.
Reader, we were enchanted: Beautiful landscape, gorgeous language, compelling story. Even the Rain (the title refers to how corporations would charge you even for collecting rain), a Spain-France-Mexico collaboration directed by Icíar Bollaín, goes where we wish more American films would go: taking on current-day events and reflecting our lives back at us.