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17 March 2011

Patagonia

Written by Published in Issue 26 - Naked Read 2976 times

Think Patagonia, think duality. Not so much an advertiser’s travel brief but a film director’s ‘road movie’, Cardiff-born Marc Evans’s film Patagonia reflects on many contrasts...

Set amid glorious panoramic landscapes – the verdant Welsh hills and the golden wilderness of Patagonia – at the southernmost tip of Argentina, the film acknowledges aspirations of an earlier age. In 19th-century Wales, hardship encouraged many to abandon their homeland in search of a better life. Concerns about losing characteristics of language, custom and religion convinced many of the need for an insular Welsh settlement in which national identity could thrive. In 1865 the Mimosa sailed for a new land, where pioneers could be free to live according to their own values and beliefs. They sought their utopia in an arid and desolate landscape: Patagonia.

Evans’s film interweaves the passionate yearnings of two contemporary women seeking personal fulfilment. Thirtysomething Gwen (Nia Roberts) from Cardiff is having difficulty conceiving a child with her long-term boyfriend, Rhys (Matthew Gravelle). When he is sent to Welsh Patagonia on a photographic assignment, Gwen decides to accompany him, hopeful that the romantic isolation will allow their relationship to flourish again.

Just as life on the prairie for the earliest pioneers proved complicated – interaction with indigenous tribal people became their means of survival – so it seems to be for Gwen. She is drawn for her immediate salvation towards Mateo (Matthew Rhys), a handsome, spirited young Welsh Patagonian who acts as their guide in this landscape of possibilities. The intense sexual chemistry between these two characters is credibly portrayed, as is

the tension of the romantic triangle they help to create. Simultaneously, although more certain of her own future, strong-minded but ailing Cerys (Marta Lubos), an elderly Argentinian, embarks on her own personal quest in the opposite direction, to the north of Wales. With her she carries a faded photograph of a young woman posing outside a farmhouse in the hills. This is Cerys’s mother, who sinned out of wedlock and for her shame was sent to live with relatives in Patagonia.

Cerys seeks to solve a lifelong mystery by discovering her origins. Her strong faith that she will find her way ‘home’ compensates for her failing sight. She is accompanied by a reluctant youth, Alejandro (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) who gradually learns to embrace new challenges, especially that of attractive Welsh student, Sissy (played by singer Duffy in her debut role).

Whereas Cerys’s story is all about her uncertain past, Gwen’s is focused on her undecided future.

Beautiful cinematography (Robbie Ryan) does justice to both spectacular locations, which is matched by a suitably evocative soundtrack (Joseph LoDuca) drawing the two remote terrains inexorably together. Authentically moving between languages, Spanish and Welsh, the characters retain their unique fascination. Links between Wales and Patagonia remain strong. Evans’s moving film explores the culture and landscape of two distant lands, drawn together through the very human stories of two women. The climax of their expeditions is poignant, and well worth the emotional journey.

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