fri 25/09/2020

Patagonia | reviews, news & interviews

Patagonia

Patagonia

A cinematic novelty in Welsh and Spanish is appropriate for all comers. It's got Duffy too

The settler unsettled: Nia Roberts and Matthew Rhys make eyes and speak Welsh in 'Patagonia'

To anyone less than familiar with a transatlantic migration of 150 souls which took place in 1865, a bilingual film with dialogue in Spanish and Welsh may look like a subtitled bridge too far. Any such prejudgement would be a mistake. Patagonia is a film rich in cinematic textures which visits not one but two ravishing parts of the world rarely celebrated in widescreen.

To anyone less than familiar with a transatlantic migration of 150 souls which took place in 1865, a bilingual film with dialogue in Spanish and Welsh may look like a subtitled bridge too far. Any such prejudgement would be a mistake. Patagonia is a film rich in cinematic textures which visits not one but two ravishing parts of the world rarely celebrated in widescreen. The fact that it has a lovely little cameo from Duffy, making her acting debut and contributing (in Welsh) to the soundtrack, is an extra recommendation.

Patagonia opens, appropriately, in the week of St David’s Day. March 1 found Hillary Clinton noting the enriching influence on the United States of its Welsh-Americans. You can only hope she wasn’t just referring to Catherine Zeta-Jones. But no Welsh-Americans have left their mark like the small band of settlers who first sailed to rural Argentina to escape the homogenising spread of the English language. It was a harsh initiation. “Croeso i Patagonia” says a card welcoming two visiting Welsh characters as they get off the bus in the middle of nowhere. The original settlers weren’t welcomed at all by a landscape offering neither water nor shelter. But they dug themselves in, other Welsh speakers followed from the old country and North America, with the result that in this lone outpost the language is still commonly spoken long after Welsh blood has mingled with other ethnicities.

To keep faith with their Nonconformist God, the settlers planted chapels in the pampas. It’s these that, in Patagonia, a Welsh photographer called Rhys (Matthew Gravelle) has crossed the Atlantic to record. His girlfriend Gwen (Nia Roberts) tags along, nursing a new desperate secret that, like the Patagonia first visited by settlers, she is barren. Hence she is unable to greet Rhys’s proposal of marriage in Buenos Aires with unadulterated joy. Her feelings are further complicated when, to drive them across the flat endless plains, Rhys hires a rugged Welsh-speaking caballero (Matthew Rhys) who soon enough is showing a more than friendly interest in Gwen.

pata02But curiosity cuts both ways in Marc Evans’s film, which is constructed as a diptych (Evans co-wrote the script with Laurence Coriat). While the Welsh tread in the footsteps of intrepid forebears, two Argentines are making their way towards Wales. One of them is Cerys, an elderly woman (Marta Lubos) who knows that she was conceived out of wedlock on a Welsh hill farm and that her mother was shipped out to Patagonia to spare her family the shame. Armed only with a name and an old sepia photograph, she spontaneously goes in search of her ancestral home in the Wales of her dreams, accompanied by a willing young neighbour called Alejandro (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, pictured above with Lubos). Though diabetic and all but blind, she has a sixth sense that she’ll recognise it when she gets there.

The moving reveals come quietly and undemonstratively, both in the script and the performances. Among the film's forgivable implausibilities, it’s maybe a bit of a stretch to believe in Matthew Rhys as a latinised gaucho but he rounds up a flock of sheep on horseback with native flair. Roberts and Biscayart both give hugely striking performances as slightly lost souls while, as Cerys, Lubos beautifully and wittily embodies that deep-seated Welsh spirit known as hiraeth – which pallidly translates as “longing” – despite speaking no more than a word or two of her mother’s language. Hats off too to Duffy (pictured below with Biscayart) who chuckles daintily as a young woman working at a Welsh campsite.

duffyWhile two tourist boards won't be complaining, this is much more than a travel brochure with a storyline. Evans deftly tweaks mood and tone as he cuts between paired narratives. While the two stories never meet, they cross-pollinate on other levels. Both visit St Fagans, the Welsh heritage museum. Music from each culture bleeds across from one landscape to the other, and the two languages go on an entertaining exchange trip too: Welsh is mostly spoken in the Patagonian scenes, Spanish in the Welsh ones.

If you squint hard at Patagonia in Patagonia, and pretend the grass isn’t yellow, some of its lumps and humps do look a bit like the steep green hills of home. On the deepest level of all, though, Evans’s affecting film asks what ties continue to link these two remarkably dissimilar places from opposite hemispheres, one baked by sun, the other washed by rain. There is no answer beyond memory, and the enchantment lent by distance.

Watch the trailer to Patagonia

While the Welsh tread in the footsteps of intrepid forebears, two Argentines are making their way towards Wales

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Comments

Many years ago I bought a beautiful painting of a castle - just because I liked it. Twenty years later, upon removing the back, I discovered it was of Madryn Castle in North Wales. It was an earlier owner of Madryn who initiated and funded the settlers boat trip to Patagonia. I drove to Madryn to see the castle, only to find it had been burned down by an avaricious and greedy developer in the 1960s. Now the site of a caravan park.

Where can I see this film? It sounds fascinating and should take us back to our holiday of a lifetime in Patagonia, including the first landing site of the Welsh travellers near Puerto Madryn. Have checked out lisitings for Manchester and Liverpool but can't find anything other than Cardiff - that's too far!

I have checked out Birmingham, Warwick Arts Cinema, Midlands Arts and Solihull and can not find this film either.

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