Ben Hopkins

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From Clash, March 2011

A dual carriageway road movie encompassing Argentina, Wales, a glut of convicting emotions and a hefty collection of back stories, Marc Evans’ Patagonia collects a series of familiar genre angles to create something unique.

The roots of Argentine Patagonia’s unusual place in history originated when a Welsh community set sail to find a new promised land. They came ashore in Patagonia, its arid desert a vast contrast to the green fields of home. And so the settlement flourished and a Welsh community remains to this very day – Gruff Rhys’ recent film Seperado! also visits similar territory.

Route One: Cardiff to Patagonia. Photographer Rhys travels to Argentina for an assignment with his girlfriend Gwen in tow. Cracks soon grow in their apparently strong relationship, especially as the friendship between Gwen and the Welsh Patagonian tour guide Mateo grows as Rhys loses himself in his project.

Route Two: Patagonia to Wales. Ageing Argentinian native Cerys commences a secret pilgrimage with the help of young neighbour Alejandro. For Alejandro, this is a coming of age adventure. For Cerys, a possible last chance to see her ancestral homeland.

It’s the Patagonian voyage that provides the bulk of the film’s class with a palpable level of sexual tension / conflict and unpredictability between the three central characters, all of which are conveyed with conviction by Matthew Rhys, Nia Roberts and Matthew Gravelle. Evans and Red Road cinematographer Robbie Ryan excel at capturing the area’s innate beauty; Rhys’ occupation greatly helping their cause.

The return journey doesn’t fare quite as well, but it ultimately holds the greater emotional force. For the most part, the purpose of Cerys’ visit is unexplained, leaving Alejandro’s tale to take priority. His slowly blossoming and suspiciously convenient relationship with a local student played by Duffy is the film’s least convincing segment. Duffy’s performance is steady: she doesn’t yet possess any real gravitas but neither does her role fall short of requirements. Yet when Cerys rises to the centre of the story, it escalates to something altogether more touching.

Patagonia offers a fascinating insight into a unique foreign land while also exploring the full emotional spectrum. It succeeds in delivering escapism, character conflict and more mystery than it first suggests. The two narratives force the addition of a slightly flabby two-hour running time to its list of minor flaws, but regardless it’s accomplished, utterly engaging and quite brilliant.

Written by Ben Hopkins

March 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm


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