For a vast and empty place Patagonia is pretty fecund when it comes to generating novels, travelogues and movies. In fact it’s a veritable factory of myth and story, fuelling work by writers from Baudrillard through Borges to Bruce Chatwin as well as a slew of movie-makers. Now, like those two proverbial buses, along come a pair of Welsh films, both about Patagonia and Wales, both road movies and both unutterably different from each other.
The Marc Evans directed Patagonia runs two tale in tandem, the first being the journey of childless couple Gwen (Nia Roberts) and Rhys (Matthew Gravelle in his film debut) to Argentina and the other being that of elderly, diabetic Cerys (Marta Lubos) to see her childhood home on a north Wales farm. Her young neighbour, Alejandro (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) chaperones her on what he thinks is a trip to Buenos Aires. Once adjusted to the fact that they are going much, much further Alejandro learns not only to respect the steely old lady but also, when he meets seductive Sissy (bestselling pop singer Duffy) finds young love. Meanwhile, Gwen and Rhys are guided around the chapels of Patagonia by handsome, Welsh speaking Mateo, played by Matthew Rhys.
When Gwen mistakenly believes that her lover Rhys has left her behind she finds solace in the Argentinian’s bed. While the emotional lines of this eternal triangle are mapped out Cerys draws ever nearer to her birthplace, unaware that it has been drowned in creating a new reservoir. Having visited the mossy graveyard of her forebears at water’s edge her heart gives out and Alejandro finds himself of the horns of an awful dilemma, solved by sending the old lady’s body on a flower-
Patagonia is sumptuously shot by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who captures the vast vistas of south American scrubland just as surely as the slightly more claustrophobic scenery of Wales. To add to Ryan’s luminous and lyrical camera work there’s a truly fabulous score by Joseph Loduca which intermeshes tango rhythms and sombre Welsh folk song to great effect. The film offers ample evidence of Marc Evans’ maturity as a director, a film awash with southern light and human insight.
Separado! is a different kettle of (psychedelic) fish. As one might expect from former helmsman of the effortlessly inventive Super Furry Animals Gruff Rhys, this zany, at times inchoate film, hangs on by its very fingertips from a rickety framework of narrative. In what its makers have described as ‘Star Trek meets Buena Vista Social Club’ Gruff heads off to south America in search of his exotic, singing gaucho cousin Rene Griffiths and otherwise explore his family’s links with the historic settlement of the Argentine wilderness by pioneering Welsh settlers in the 1850s.
To get from one place to another Gruff teleports, USS Enterprise-
So the film is a madcap dash from Bala to Brazil, taking in the history of the Welsh settlement of Y Wladfa, or the Welsh speaking area of Chubut, and in its way it is frenetically entertaining. Dylan Goch directs it like a screwball music video. In fact, that’s what it is.
It’s a fizzy, fussy film let down by its ending, when Gruff discovers his cousin was living in Cardiff all along. For a film brightened by a good few pyrotechnic fizzes and animated by Gruff’s unfailing good humour it’s a damp squib of an ending. If you like Gruff’s albums, however, such as last year’s brilliant Hotel Shampoo, you’ll forgive Separado! its weaknesses and simply go along for the ride.