directed by Marc Evans; written by Laurence Coriat and Marc Evans; starring Matthew Rhys, Nia Roberts, Marta Lubos, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Matthew Gravelle, Duffy
screened on September 21st, 22nd and 23rd
A truck rolls by, a faded name on its side. ‘Patagonia’. Perhaps once a tourist spot, but the guide driving his rusting truck only has these two visitors to look after, so it seems business is as faded as the emblazoned word and the dusty desert plains they wander around. This could, quite easily, simply be Argentina, though perhaps that lack of distinction is the implication in the barely-there advertisement. But it’s unlikely, no, that a film would name itself after something so intriguing and then barely engage with it? For the soap-opera dynamics of the half of Patagonia that actually takes place in Patagonia don’t have any need to be there at all, although I doubt they’d be much more engaging in California or Siberia than they are here. Rhys’ (Matthew Gravelle) actual interest in the architecture of the churches he’s been assigned to photograph is part and parcel of why his girlfriend Gwen (Nia Roberts) engages far too deeply in her flirtation with their guide (Matthew Rhys, not very rugged at all). Gwen is never at home here, and, despite the mistakes she makes, the film never suggests a disagreement with this. Wales is, as for Gwen, where Cerys (Marta Lubos) feels she should be as her life nears its end – so Patagonia, then, is for all not somewhere they are truly happy.
Rather curiously sheathed in half, with two plots that are cleanly unrelated, the film swerves between Patagonia and Wales without much rhyme or reason. The more dominant – and naturally, less interesting – half is drawn rather tiredly in Babel-like colours, from the dusty golden glow of the cinematography to the august plucking of the score, and there isn’t much sense of Patagonia as a place distinct from any of the rest of South America, except that the characters – two of whom are visitors – speak in Welsh. Showing the disconnect that should likely be the point of the film, the characters in Wales speak in Spanish, though this plot is played much more heavily for the cultural tension. Though she provides the inevitably poignant climax, Cerys is mostly an excuse for the coming-of-age arc given to Alejandro (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), though his encounters with European tourists, loutish locals and a sweet Welsh student (Duffy) are hardly the most narratively sharp of experiences.
The film seems to be commenting on Patagonia’s status as more a beautiful artefact than a country in the way it interpolates the flashes and exposures of Rhys’ camera, and its emulation of his painterly shots. But as the soap-opera dynamics crowd the film and Wales is inevitably depicted as a rosy, pastoral landscape, any deeper angles that have been vaguely suggested are shunted aside. By reducing its characters to such familiar arcs, the film can’t give them any more than a superficial depth, and generally isn’t interested in engaging them with the histories of the foreign worlds they engage with. The brief hints of something more specific that we are given make the film’s overall disinterest even more maddening – there are stories here being ignored, snubbed for ones that have probably been written during a deep sleep. Often a failure is more catastrophic when the target aimed at was never high enough in the first place.