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VIFF 2014 review – The Liberator

Wednesday 08th, October 2014 / 08:45
By Paris Spence-Lang

Period piece fails to liberate Simón Bolivar’s story

VANCOUVER — This is the story of a collection of South American cultural groups who were oppressed by the Spanish monarchy, and the one man who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s The Liberator, a wide-reaching epic on the life of Simón Bolivar, Venezuelan military and political leader who led the South American revolution against Spain.

Beginning with Bolivar escaping an assassination attempt, the film quickly flashes back to his life as a young aristocrat. A colonial nobleman, Bolivar is amazed by the frivolity of the Spanish nobility, but still meets one he likes enough to marry. He returns to his homeland of Venezuela with his new bride, Maria Theresa, and, with her help, slowly becomes aware of the increasing Spanish oppression of the area. After Maria Theresa’s death, Bolivar moves to Paris, where he is convinced to liberate his country by English banker Torkington. After a brief fight, Bolivar is captured and exiled to the jungles of Cartagena, Columbia, where he creates a grassroots army and takes the fight to Spain.

The opening sequences are delightful, with María Valverde (Maria Theresa) being the clear highlight of the film. But when Maria Theresa dies, the film is left with little to love. This catalyst would mark the true beginning of most epics, but it marks the end of a coherent story for The Liberator, and, like Bolivar in Paris after the death of his wife, the film begins to fall apart. The story seems simple in the summary above, but director Alberto Alvaro seems unable to connect the historical dots. Things happen so quickly that the viewer is hard-pressed to even know where Bolivar is at any moment; in one scene, Bolivar is taking a stroll in a Parisian garden, but it cuts away to Bolivar already mid-battle in the revolution. And the battles: any historian worth their salt will be shaking their head at the ill-conceived battle sequences that seem to have thrown research to the wayside. Character development is also thrown to the wayside, with each character seeming to have no true purpose. In addition to tangled plot points and pointless, cookie-cutter characters, the film is occasionally so cliché that Bolivar shouts “Freedom!” while standing next to his Irish general, leaving the viewer to wonder if Bolivar wrote his speeches while watching Braveheart.

The Liberator claims Bolivar’s army never conquered, but liberated. However, this film fails to conquer or liberate Bolivar’s story: it’s a sprawling blockbuster that, if in English, would make as much sense being at a film festival as The Patriot or Gladiator. The most frustrating thing about this movie is the excellence of the first 30 minutes, which leave the rest of the film a dull, albeit loud disappointment. While the movie is pleasing to the eyes, it serves as little more than a period piece, and should be avoided by those looking for a good historical drama.

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