Reviews for “The Liberator,” or “Libertador,” the ambitious Latin American film that tries to tell the story of Simon Bolivar, the general and statesman often called the “George Washington of South America,” have been more respectful than enthusiastic.
“The man himself remains elusive,” Variety said of the two hour epic. Bolivar is perhaps too much “an icon” to be easily rendered “a flesh and blood human being.”
Fortunately, as the Hollywood Reporter counters, “The Liberator” has “the charismatic and capable Edgar Ramirez” in the title role. The star of the acclaimed terrorist biography “Carlos” and “Zero Dark Thirty” is Venezuelan, as was the 19th century president and military genius.
We caught up with Ramirez, 37, in New York.
Q: Unlike most people in the United States, you learned much about Bolivar in school, growing up in Venezuela. What surprised you in researching him for the film?
Ramirez: “Even in South America, when we were taught about Bolivar, we were never told how intertwined American independence, the French Revolution and Latin American independence were. They came from the same Enlightenment ideas and values. Those ideas traveled from the birth of the United States to the French Revolution to Latin America — Washington and Jefferson to Napoleon to Bolivar.
“We all learn our history, on both sides of the border, in isolation. And they were connected!”
“Bolivar’s ideas were similar to Jefferson’s, and by extension Lincoln’s ideas about freedom were similar to Bolivar’s. Bolivar was the first Western head of state to set out to abolish slavery.”
Q: What sort of pressure did you feel having to portray an icon, a man who has a country named for him (Bolivia), who was so important to the independence of so many countries in South America?
Ramirez: “He was a brilliant statesman and a brilliant strategist. Being Venezuelan, it was a great privilege to portray a character so complex, with so many contradictions — the fighter, the thinker, the lover. We’ve made an action film with great social debates and two interesting love stories.”
Q: The film shows him as a son of wealth who spent much time in Europe, and a little slow to embrace the idea of abolishing slavery, despite being raised by Hippolyta, a black slave he called his mother. A contradiction in the man?
Ramirez: “Bolivar’s ideas, some of them, would seem transgressive, even today. He was a product of his time, but a black woman raised him and that had to impact his views on slavery. As he says in the film, ‘We want this project to free all men — not just landowners, but brown men, black men and white men.’ He was a very special figure in history
“A biopic is not a photograph. It’s a painting. It’s an approximation. Who knows how he sounded? Who knows what was deep in his heart? We were inspired by the size of his personality, the scope of his saga. And we wanted to include his flaws, his impulsiveness, and show him changing.”
Q: Historians often fault him for having Napoleonic tendencies, for staying in power and on the stage too long, unlike George Washington, who stepped aside. Does that explain Latin America’s slow movement to stable, representative democracies?
Ramirez: “The ways independence came to North and South America were entirely different. The British colonies already had been allowed to participate in continental politics. They paid taxes to Britain, but their political life was run by Americans. You were prepared to govern.
“In Latin America, everything ran out of Spain. No Spanish subject born in the Indies could hold any significant political post. Only Spaniards from Spain could be appointed, not elected, to those jobs. We did not know how to govern. We only knew how to obey a strongman.
“Bolivar and the revolutionaries were trying to bring The Enlightenment to a system straight out of the Middle Ages.”
“We have been dealing with that for 200 years, now.”
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