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Film Reviews

Simon Jablonski's Weekly Independent Cinema Reviews Column
Simon Jablonski , March 4th, 2011 11:04

Simon casts his expert eye over Patagonia and The Insatiable Moon for this week's column


There must have been something swooning round the collective Welsh consciousness over the past couple of years, for Patagonia follows Gruff Rhys' brilliant documentary from 2010, Seperado, that also takes the subject of reconnecting with this distant part of Argentina. Though it doesn't have the lure of the Promised Land that early settlers imagined, the idea of a concentrated group of Welsh speaking cowboys living at the foot of the Andes is intrinsically fascinating.

Patagonia follows three individuals' responses to this ephemeral chord that connects the two countries. Photographer Rhys sets off to Patagonia on a commission, and is joined at the last minute by girlfriend Gwen. Whilst Rhys spends the trip obsessing over his work and equipment, he becomes increasingly irritated by Gwen's flirtatious behaviour as, encouraged by Patagonian guide Mateo (Mathew Rhys), the Latin air enamours her head.

Travelling in the opposite direction is Cerys, an elderly Argentinean lady who sets off to Wales with money she tells her family is for a cataract operation. With only a faded photo of her pregnant mother stood in front of a farmhouse, she wants to set her eyes on her ancestral homeland once before she dies. Not being able to speak a word of English or Welsh, she semi-kidnaps her extremely reluctant young neighbour Alejandro to help her along the way.

The two stories differ significantly, but mirror each other in touching ways that avoid being patronising or over-explicit. Drawn by the image of Patagonia woven into Welsh folklore, Gwen's journey resembles the fantasy of escapism. In contrast to Gwen's souring aspirations to run to mountains, Rhys' obsesses over photos of these small buildings with insular gloom as he torturously watches a love triangle forming. Away from the soap opera of Patagonia, Cerys' lure from the rosy stories of the old country is much more comical. Despite eating pasties in motorway service stations being a cultural highlight, her glowing expectation remains untainted.

Colouring the already entrancing stories is a beautifully shot piece of cinema, which is helped partly by the landscapes – both those of Argentina and Wales – but also by the vintage Bolex cameras which relay the scenery in amber warm images, and the results of stop-frame motion show the scenery moving at a pace and fluidity as if it were dancing.

Considering the film contains pedlar of nostalgia pop Duffy in her acting debut, there has been little hoohah about it. Though her part is fairly small - and she basically plays a kind of pixyish Welsh girl - she carries it off surprising well (or 'unsurprisingly well', if you happen to be a massive Duffy fan who has been telling your mates for years that you think Duffy should be a major Hollywood star).

It's two tales of romance between a person and a country turning round each other like a double helix; the first an explosive manage a tois, the other a teasing pursuit. Patagonia is an incredibly imaginative and compelling film, one of those films you could watch over again and read a different story each time.

The Insatiable Moon

A strange film that begins as an endearing oddity, then wobbles slightly as it juggles with religious themes before finally falling so clumsily on its face you wonder how it got up there in the first place.

Local eccentric and urban nomad Arthur believes he's the son of God - but not in a scary, jumping from behind a car park wall clutching cider screaming kind of way. Arthur strolls merrily around town spreading his good cheer and wisdoms with such sereneness that if you're not convinced within the first five minutes he is the son of God, you certainly wish he was. This does initially make for some quite amusing situations; whilst obviously being homeless, there's nothing immediately disturbing about him beyond being quite larger than life in a way you'd probably expect from a desert-weary prophet. Mothers shift their kids out of his way, but feeling guilty for doing so.

His sole mission seems to be to find 'the queen of heaven'. And when he runs into Margaret outside a café, he thinks he's found her. Moved partly by the desperation caused by her troubles conceiving and also by her position as a social worker, Margaret becomes mildly infatuated by Arthur.

Inevitably the floor falls from under the hopelessly hopeful Margaret, but it's amazing to see how far she followed this man – you can tell the filmmakers want that to be part of the mystery, but it better resembles poor writing. Quite quickly the film gets bogged down in vaguely patronising aphorisms about the power of hope, love and God et cetera. Where the film tries a little too hard to bend the narrative towards claiming that love and religion are necessary bedfellows, you'd be forgiven for suspecting the New Zealand Church were funding the project. It leans too closely towards a religious conscription video to really succeed at what it started out as: the ambiguity surrounding a man's messianic delusions. 'Aren't we all children of God?', the vicar poses at one point.

Whist Arthur is busy tying to seduce Margaret, there's an Old School-esque fight to stop the home at which he lives with many other mental illness patients from closing.

For sheer guts, the highlight of the film is probably the paedophile funeral – which also epitomised the lack of directional clarity. Paedophile funeral, weighty subject, where's it going to run with this? Chris Morris would have a ball with it. All the lodgers from the home, where John the paedophile also lived, are in attendance and each get up and say nice things about him, which is peculiar yet strangely humanising. 'Aren't paedos also children of God?', is the underlying message scrawled unconvincingly across the screen. When the mother of one of his victims turns up, things get slightly out of control as a full scale argument erupts between opposing parties. All satire and humanity dies, and it just feels uncomfortably silly – why is that man shouting at a dead girl's mother about what a nice man this paedophile killer is?

As an eccentric comedy in the Eagle Vs Shark vein, it could have worked very well. Yet the overdose of sentimentality drowns the film, and waters down what were potentially interesting characters.