“He’s woven a dangerous thread between fiction and reality.”
Jorge Alí Triana’s Columbian film Bolívar Is Me (Bolívar Soy Yo!) is ostensibly a comedy that looks at exactly what happens when an actor loses his grip on reality. But under the surface of the film’s humour, there’s a serious political satire with a message about the inevitable demise of idealism within the political structure.
When the film begins, popular telenovela actor Santiago Miranda (Robinson Díaz) who is playing the role of Simón Bolívar, El Libertador in the television series The Loves of the Liberator, prepares for the concluding scene by reading Don Quixote. In real life, Bolívar died in bed from TB (although theories have recently floated that he was poisoned). The producer doesn’t think this sort of ending helps the ratings, and so the series has been rewritten to show Bolívar executed by firing squad. Everyone on the set is aware the Miranda has become a little too involved with his role, and even his real-life lover, Alejandra (Amparo Grisales) who plays Bolívar’s lover, Manuelita in the series can’t tell if Santiago loves her or the role she plays. Consequently Alejandro has dumped Santiago during the filming of the series and he’s suffered a breakdown. Today, Santiago, who in his role of Bolívar, is about to face the firing squad and the end of the show, goes berserk and storms off the set. He argues that since the show has re-written history to suit the ratings, there’s no reason why he can’t rewrite history too, and so in full dress uniform, he escapes to the airport and heads for Bogata. The director (Santiago Bejarano) and a psychiatrist (Gustavo Angarita), in hot pursuit of Santiago, intend to put the troubled actor into a strait jacket, lock him up and control his behaviour with medication: “something like a lobotomy but with drugs.” Alejandra believes that Santiago is so out of touch with reality that only she–as Manuelita–Bolívar’s trusted lover who once saved him from an assassination attempt–can bring him back safely. She’s told to avoid using the words “no,” and “death,” and so in a strangely twisted reality-mirrors-fiction way, she heads out to save Santiago.
Santiago’s misadventures are really very funny. Since he’s an actor, people accept that he’s stepping into a role, and it seems perfectly normal for him to show up at the President’s office in costume or riding on his horse, Paloma. He’s the star at a National Independence day parade, but the problems begin when Santiago opens his mouth at an important political summit meeting and begins talking about Bolívar’s Gran Columbia–the countries Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, and Bolivia, united.
Since the historical figure of Bolívar is symbolic, various factions want to co-opt his popular image. First the government wants to harness Santiago’s mass appeal–both as a telenovella actor and also as the symbol of Bolívar, but once Santiago breaks out into the countryside, guerillas, the Simon Bolívar Bolcehevique Front/Simon Bolívar Popular Revolutionary Army also see the value of this modern-day Bolívar.
Bolivar is Me is really a clever film. On one level, it’s about an actor who loses touch with reality and becomes his role. That’s the funny part, but it’s also the story of a man who has an ethical problem with playing a character whose historic mission has been co-opted, re-written and diluted into meaningless. We never quite know whether or not Santiago is completely off his rocker or whether he’s fully or partially aware that he isn’t Bolívar. In several speeches, Santiago lays out his discontent with the political system and his annoyance at the way Bolívar’s name has been used to decorate various shabby buildings. Santiago says that Quixote is “man as he should be,” and yet at the same time he states that “the three greatest dummies in history have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and me.” Of course, at this point, Santiago appears to be speaking of himself as Bolívar.
One of the cleverest aspects of the film is the way it shows how casually history is rewritten until the truth is obscured by time, myth, and political expediency. Santiago is appalled to see what Bolívar has become:
Now I understand what a symbol is–to be a statue of bronze so that pigeons can shit on you.
The film also shows real footage of the M-19 Palace of Justice siege on 6th of November, 1985–an incident in which M-19 Guerillas (19th of April Movement) took over the building and held hundreds hostage. There are various versions about what happened, so who knows what the truth is anymore. The 19th of April Movement removed Bolívar’s sword from a museum, and in Bolívar Is Me, we see the guerillas returning the sword to Santiago. By the film’s conclusion, we see the Society of the Spectacle–authentic life replaced with its representation. According to Guy Debord:
“The Spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”
And by the film’s conclusion, it’s easy to see that history is about to be rewritten again….
Some of the scenes take place at the Quinta de Bolívar Museum.