SIFF Movie Review: Patagonia

The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is long over, but this just goes to show how busy I’ve been: between long work weeks, sports and multiple bachelor parties, movies have taken a back seat to things are “allegedly” more important. Still, I managed to get to two SIFF films out of its four-week run, the first of which was the Welsh film called Patagonia.

Patagonia is not in Wales, it’s in Argentina. But the residents of Patagonia speak Welsh (and Spanish) as the area was cultivated by Welsh settlers several generations earlier. The drama, half a coming-of-age tale, half a story about realizing what is truly important in life, is inspired by a true journey taken by independent filmmakers Marc Evans and Laurence Coriat. The movie follows two Argentineans, an adventure-adverse teenager (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) and his elderly neighbor (Marta Lubos), who travel to Wales to find the farm where the woman’s mother was born, and a Welsh couple, played by Matthew Rhys and Nia Roberts, who travel to Argentina only to discover their relationship isn’t as solid as first thought. In other words, the movie is simultaneously about the past and the future.

Though featuring no recognizable stars, the movie is well acted by all parties involved. Biscayart and Lubos have incredibly good chemistry, even more so than the two playing the couple. The writing is generally solid, with sweeping drama that rarely feels overly melodramatic or unnecessary. The screenplay is dotted with just enough humor to keep things light; the actors execute the humor perfectly.

As good as the writing is, Patagonia does feel like two movies shoved into one – because, essentially, it is. Both stories holds your attention, but the narrative about the boy and the old woman is much more engaging and interesting. Thanks to the actors’ chemistry and the development of the characters, this is the story the audience can really hook onto. The story set in Argentina is fine and at times alluring, but the troubled couple thing has been done many times before. It does begin to push the realm of reality, though, as it devolves into a bit of a soap opera; one character betrays the other, one keeps an important secret hidden for no good reason, and after they go their separate ways are somehow able to find each other by chance in the Argentinean landscape. It all becomes a bit much.

Overall, the pace of the movie is slow but steady. It’s somewhat predictable, but Patagonia is more about the journey than the conclusion. Unfortunately, Evans drags the film on for about 20 minutes after the stories “end.” At 130 minutes, it does begin to feel long in the final act. Some tightening of the stories would have been easy to accomplish and would have benefited the final production.

Patagonia is not without its flaws, but they’re typically minor. Strong acting, an engaging screenplay and beautiful scenery make this drama well worth the price of admission.

By Erik Samdahl
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