Simon Bolivar: A Review
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 7, Number 1, February 1977
- pp. 10-11
- Additional Information
SIMON BOLIVAR: A REVIEW BYJANELOY Jane Loy is Assistant Professor ofHistory at the University ofMassachusetts at Amherst, and is editor ofLatin American Sights and Sounds: A Guide to Motion Pictures and Music for college courses. The release in the United States of this Italian-made feature film cannot fail to spark the interest of Latin American history instructors who have searched in vain for films on colonial or nineteenth century topics. Billed as "a colorful biography of the great nineteenth century Liberator of South America," and starring Maximilian Schell in the title role, Simon Bolivar was produced in Venezuela with the cooperation of the government and the Academia de Historia. Despite these advantages, an inept script riddled with astonishing historical inaccuracies limits the film's value for survey courses. Recreating Bolivar's career between 1816 and 1 825, Simon Bolivar opens with the Liberator's return to the Venezuelan llanos (plains) after he had suffered earlier defeats and exile. Winning over the half-savage guerrilla llaneros (plainsmen) as well as the rebel creóle officers, Bolivar molds a new patriot army. After the deliberations of the Congress of Angostura, he leads his men to victory in the Battle of Carabobo. Having expelled the Spanish, Bolivar organizes an independent government and takes as mistress the wife of the former enemy commander. Defying the objections voiced by civilian politicians, he marches his llanero army over the Andes to Peru to continue the independence struggle. On the threshold of the Ayacucho campaign, he receives a congressional order to return to Caracas to justify his continuation of the war. Bolivar obeys. Back in Caracas, he sharply reprimands congress for ignoring the will of the people, and his stirring call for unity and victory brings the film to a close. This brief synopsis demonstrates that Simon Bolivar is a wishful account of the Wars of Independence from the Venezuelan point of view. It omits the key battle of Boyaca, all fighting in Colombia and Ecuador, the contributions of non-Venezuelan revolutionaries and the establishment of Gran Colombia in order to develop the erroneous thesis that Venezuelans alone guided by Bolivar liberated northern South America. With the exception of the Liberator, none of the other characters are identifiable historical figures. The commander of the llaneros, for example, is not Jose Antonio Paez but the "General del Llano" who represents in one person many brave llanero caudillos. The Ecuadorean Manuela Saenz, the only truly significant woman in Bolivar's life, does not appear, but the central female lead played by Rossana Schiaffino is a composite ofall his female admirers. As a film biography, the movie exemplifies the ideology of the "cult ofBolivar," cornerstone of Venezuelan nationalism. Historian German Carrera Damas has suggested that this cult for his countrymen is like a second religion holding heroic perfection as its goal. Bolivar personifies such perfection by epitomizing in his glory the virtues and aspirations of all Venezuelans. He becomes not a man but a god serving as the national conscience, embodying future possibilities, and offering consolation to the disheartened. Simon Bolivar transmits this message with clarity for Schell is a creditable Bolivar in appearance, energy and personality. Unfortunately the rest of the cast mumble through their lines with 10 heavy Italian accents and never develop a sense of compelling drama. The film is not without redeeming features. Both the geographic settings and the costumes are fine. Visually well illustrated is the caste nature of society through scenes that contrast crude llaneros with elegant creóles. There is a performance of the joropo or national dance, and folk music is included in the score. These aspects serve mainly to whet the viewer's appetite and to inspire the hope that someday, some other producer will see the possibilities for an epic film about the man who changed the direction of the history of Latin America and perhaps the world. BOOK REVIEW BY PETER C. ROLLINS, OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY America In The Movies; or Santa Maria, It Had Slipped Mv Mind. By Michael Wood. New York: Basic Books, 1975. $10.00/$3.45. Film: The Democratic Art. By Garth Jowett. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1976. $19.95. Movie-Made America...