An interesting if flawed blend of historical commentary and contemporary political-economic diatribe, Iciar Bollain’s “Even the Rain” occasionally reminds you of Herzog or Fellini (and even Mel Gibson!), but the moments are fleeting, and in any event unimportant. The film draws parallels between sixteenth-century European imperialism and modern capitalism that are somewhat heavy-handed, and a portrait of the dilemma between self-concern and idealism that comes off as rather contrived. But at least it raises provocative issues in a dramatically compelling, if obvious, way.

The premise is that a group of filmmakers headed by intense director Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal) and cost-conscious producer Costa (Luis Tosar) travel to Bolivia to make a picture about Columbus and the protest of Friar Bartolomeo de las Casas over Spanish treatment of the Indians, in terms of both economic exploitation and forced conversion. From the scads of potential local extras they choose Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) to play a chieftain who resisted the Europeans and was executed as a result.

But Daniel is an activist, and becomes a leader in protests against the government’s policy of privatizing the water supply, which will raise the cost of living of the already-impoverished locals. His role in demonstrations leads to Daniel’s arrest, endangering the filmmakers’ ability to complete their project; and the outsiders—especially Costa—are torn between their own professional interests and larger considerations of right and wrong.

The juxtaposition of the exploitation of indigenous peoples half a millennium ago and that going on in the same areas today, from equally greedy motives, is rather heavy-handedly posited by writer Paul Laverty (who was apparently inspired by the work of American historian Howard Zinn, to whose memory the film is dedicated), but Bollain and her cast handle it well. The directorial approach brings an appropriately gritty mood to the proceedings, and the sense of authenticity is enhanced by her use of footage of actual street demonstrations over the water issue.

And in Aduviri she’s found a man who convinces both as a native chieftain of a bygone era and a contemporary rabble-rouser. Tosar has an even tougher role—psychologically, if not physically—as the conflicted producer, and frankly his sudden conversion (brought on by an injured young girl) comes across as a tad too convenient. But his conviction carries the day. And as the other “outside” actors Karra Elejalde, Carlos Santos and Raul Arevalo are also strong, with Elejalde making a particular impression as the cynic who plays Columbus. Bernal can’t bring much more than his boyish charm to the part of the idealistic director, but it’s all the screenplay demands. Kudos are due to cinematographer Alex Catalan for his sensitive use of locations and Alberto Iglesias for his curiously lush score.

“Even the Rain” deserves credit for raising potent contemporary socio-economic issues in a historically intelligent and dramatically effective way, even if toward the close its touch gets more than a little heavy.