I clearly remember my first day of school in Caracas. Mom walked my sister and I, in our uniforms, to the front gate where we lined up with the other boys and girls to recite the anthem while facing the flag and a gigantic statue of Simón Bolívar. It would be months before I sat through my first lesson on the so called “Liberator” but Bolívar was everywhere in the city and his fight for freedom lived in people’s hearts in a way history typically doesn’t. The thought of seeing Bolívar immortalized on screen by none other than Édgar Ramírez was exciting. The Liberator is certainly beautiful but history plays second fiddle here.
Directed by Alberto Arvelo, The Liberator is quite likely the largest production ever mounted by Venezuela. Expansive sets, thousands of extras and lush period costuming are only the surface of this operation which begins by introducing Bolívar, the son of a wealthy Venezuelan family, visiting Spain. Here he meets the man who would later be king as well as his first wife and after a short spurt of happiness, we follow the young Bolívar as he goes from sad widower to angry aristocrat to leader of a revolution. We meet the key players, see some of the important moments but it’s all very perfunctory and The Liberator comes across less as historical bipic and more like historical romance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but a man of Bolívar’s importance deserves more.
Ramírez is really wonderful, equal parts charm and strength and he is the perfect actor to play the role. The rest of the cast, including María Valverde as Bolívar’s wife, Danny Huston and Erich Wildpret, are excellent but The Liberator simply doesn’t give the actors a whole lot to work with.
The Liberator turns out to be more style than substance and though that style is wonderful (the movie also features a couple of well executed war sequences not to mention it sounds amazing thanks to a score by the great Gustavo Dudamel), Bolívar deserves something a little meatier.
The Liberator is great entertainment but those looking for a more comprehensive account of Bolívar will have to keep looking.