by jason smith for FILMbutton

Kicking off the new season of the popular Friday night series Cohen Film Classics on KCET on August 4th is The Liberator, the tale of Simón Bolívar’s 100+ battles against the Spanish Empire in South America. Bolívar rode over 70,000 miles on horseback and his military campaigns covered twice the territory of Alexander the Great. His army was never conquered – and it liberated.

On its surface, The Liberator tells the story of Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan military/political leader who played a leading role in the liberation of several South American countries from the Spanish empire in the early 19th century. Beneath it’s surface, however, are the competing currents of Bolivar’s desire of personal freedom for his people and the demands of allies whose vested interests threaten to undo him. In this sense, The Liberator is a cautionary tale with modern relevance.

Born into a wealthy, Creole family, Bolivar (Edgar Ramirez) rejects the cloistered, world-view of his privileged status (made possible, in part, by his being orphaned by nine, and then cared for by his family’s slave servants). Building upon Bolivar’s unorthodox upbringing, professor – and noted philosopher – Simon Rodriguez instills in Bolivar the enlightenment of ideals that would, later, lead him to overthrow the Spanish monarchy. It’s during such efforts that Bolivar realizes that his high ideals of freedom and liberty for all are values his allies share, but with their own interests attached; and it’s at this point that we to learn the price of Freedom.

Central to The Liberator’s theme is the conflict between personal power and the power money affords. Bolivar, though an idealist, is an aristocrat; and its such influence that not only, affords his freedom but what gives him access to the financial resources needed to realize his goals. Unfortunately, as with contemporary society, the lending of money contains its quiet obligations. To this end, English banker, Marin Torkington (Danny Houston) seizes the opportunity of expanding English commerce into South America by offering assistance with Bolivar’s political campaign for a ‘united continent.’ With Torkington’s backing, Bolivar begins, and from here history unfolds, as we bear witness to his victories and losses – and the ensuing betrayals.

What makes The Liberator, for me, successful is that it conveys itself quickly and succinctly. The drama and the action, via the beautiful breadth of its choreography, feel real and are immediately engaging. The acting is superb, the story deftly written. My only contention is that its broad scope places the story above its characters; however, given everything else, this concession not only fits, but makes good sense.

Jason Smith is an actor & arts aficionado who loves theatre, film and anything arts related. When he is not on a TV or film set, you might just see him in the background of the newest opera playing in Toronto.

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