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Actors: Matthew Rhys, Marta Lubos, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Nia Roberts, Duffy
Directors: Marc Evans
Language: Welsh, Spanish
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Verve Pictures
DVD Release Date: 11 July 2011
Run Time: 118 minutes
Patagonia is a film that is based on the way that lives today have evolved from historical events that took place in 1865, when 150 Welsh people sailed from Liverpool to Patagonia to start new lives aboard the tea-clipper Mimosa. Until I saw this film I was unaware of the Welsh occupation of this remote landscape in Argentina, and the film raises awareness of the deep desires that live on in the descendants of these early settlers as they seek to find themselves and to discover more about their connections from long ago. It is this unique set of historical circumstances that lead to the production of this film which tells the tales of two very different stories.
The first story that unfolds tells the story of Gwen (Nia Roberts) and Rhys (Matthew Gravelle) who live in Wales. Their relationship is struggling as they battle infertility, and when the opportunity arises for Rhys to go on location to Patagonia to film historic Welsh chapels it seems to be the perfect time for them to travel there together. Meanwhile very elderly, and in failing health, Cerys (Marta Lubos) desperate to find the Welsh farm that her mother left behind when she was expecting her to start a new life in Patagonia, engineers a flight home to Wales. Her mother was sent to Patagonia to avoid facing the shame of the pregnancy as she was unmarried at the time, but Cerys is desperate to find her roots, and so travels with her neighbour Alejandro (Nahaul Perez Biscayart) all the way to the UK. Here he meets Sissy (played by the singer Duffy who plays an excellent part as a Welsh girl) who in the few brief days they spend together witnesses for herself the deep connection that arises from similar cultures divided by distance. The farm Cerys so desperately wants to find is called Nant Briallu which means "stream of primroses" I love this name and it made me want her to find it more than anything.
In essence this is two road movies seen in tandem.The landscapes that engulf the high running emotions shown in the film bathe the characters in a remote and barren beauty. This exposes their feelings which are seen to be raw and which come to the surface without the distractions of high paced living. The film is in Welsh and Spanish with English subtitles, and the running time of 2 hours is spent cutting from one location to the other - one minute you're in remote sheep studded Welsh hillsides, the next in the orange hue of the sun-baked Patagonia desert. Both have hills and both have sheep but that is where the similarity ends.
I always approach films with subtitles with caution because in my experience they have to be outstanding in order to hold my interest. I had looked up this film on IMDB and had discovered its 6.1 rating which worried me slightly as this is an average rating. Amazon viewers, however, awarded it over 4* so I decided that it certainly had the elements that appeal to me in a good film, and so parted with my money and ordered it through Amazon. The price has recently increased to £6.59 but there are cheaper copies from marketplace sellers to be purchased. I still had the scepticism though as IMDB reviewers are more copious in number, and so reflect more the actual feelings the majority have, and I came to agree wholeheartedly with this score myself having watched the film in detail. This is for a number of reasons that I will elaborate on further as we go along.
First of all I must applaud the director for the choice of the elderly character Cerys who is simply outstanding in every aspect. She has a determined approach to life, and is so likeable and portrays the character with so much skill - I see her as the bedrock of the film. Her innocent and shy travelling companion Alehandro is what he is, a timid and sheltered character, but his innocence provides the perfect companion to play against Duffy, who I think also excels in her first acting roll which she plays with skill and is a convincing character in her own right.
The Patagonian scenes are dominated by the relationship between Rhys and Gwen and are further complicated when a third character - their guide Mateo (Matthew Rhys) a Welsh Patagonian rancher, is introduced. He provides a distraction and love interest for Gwen to follow as she battles to come to terms with her failing relationship. I think for me this story is less endearing than the Welsh scenes, as although the landscapes are breathtaking there is something lacking in the performances of these three characters particularly those of Gwen and Rhys who just fall short of their acting capabilities for me at least. There needed to be more electricity there and more passion as the events that unfold are predictable and almost inevitable.
There is nothing to connect these parallel stories other than the historical events that took place, but the similarities, particularly in relation to the landscapes that mirror each other in so many ways, link the two together in a unique and clever way that makes it all run together so smoothly. Although the filming took place entirely in Patagonia first, and then onto Wales, the scenes are cut between the two locations and are at no time confusing or annoying - it flows beautifully.
Where my criticism of this film goes is in its implausible endings, which though symbolic and quite shocking, I feel actually makes this film lose its credibility in the final minutes. I can't elaborate on this as you must watch the film for yourself, but I feel the director and writer got carried away. Instead of ending the film in a way that might have lost its shock factor yes, but a more gentle finale may well have pleased more viewers who were with the characters every step of the way in their personal journeys. There are some clever aspects to the final minutes too with similar events unfolding in the two locations, but all in all the film ends leaving you very unsatisfied and rather uncomfortable and let down.
All in all though this film passed two hours beautifully and has increased my awareness of events in history that I was previously unaware of. I delighted in the landscapes of Patagonia and of Wales, and I will forever remember the burnt orange camera shots in Patagonia which were so stunning and which illuminated the sky in a hue of rich Sienna. The images of little Welsh chapels amongst the desolate scenes of empty desert were stunning, and it has certainly put another place on my map of places to see before I pass on.
The music that accompanies this film is varied between what sounds like Greek music to me and rather odd, to Duffy moments which are hauntingly beautiful. She doesn't dominate this element of the film though, which is excellent, as it allows her to focus on her acting skills which as I said earlier are outstanding.
In terms of extras there is a trailer and a very interesting documentary concerning the making of the film and the ideas that lead up to it, which is excellent and it includes some insightful moments from each of the main characters.
The subtitles to this film could be better in my opinion as they are missing for the introductory text, and as this sets the historical scene it is a technical error which should have been rectified at the time of production. Unless you had researched the film you may have found it difficult to follow as the history is of paramount importance to understanding the reasons for the film in the first place.
My Final Thoughts
My lasting thoughts of this film are that it tells the tales of two women one searching for her past, the other for her future, one at peace with herself and knowing her own mind, the other desperately seeking something. It is the former I fell in love with, Cerys, as her wit and resolute direction took her to the Welsh hills in her coat and broach and she looked every bit the part of an elderly Welsh lady who had never really left the security of her beloved Welsh valley.
Can I recommend this film? Well that depends if you can see beyond the final moments and see the film as a close representation of the way in which our past shapes our future. If you can do this you will remember the superb acting in Wales, and the images of the landscape and the way the two places mirror each other in beauty and isolation. Is it one of my favourite films of all time? No - but it did make me think and wonder, and it does stir up emotions in you about where you came from and where you are going. It is also a superb entrance for Duffy who has shown her acting skills can be appreciated in depth. I would say this is a good film with a unique story.
This review is also on Ciao under my user name Violet1278