Unspools two parallel narratives connected only by a historical anomaly.
Offbeat even beyond its standing as perhaps the first feature co-production between its two co-producing nations, “Patagonia” unspools two parallel narratives connected only by a historical anomaly — the boatload of poor Welsh settlers who reached remotest Argentina in 1865, establishing a unique, still-extant cross-cultural corner of the desert there. While its separate parts may not quite add up, they complement each other quite pleasingly. Middleweight drama from director/co-writer Marc Evans (“Snow Cake,” “My Little Eye”) could attract limited specialty distrib attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
Pic’s two tales more or less commence in Buenos Aires, though neither lingers there long. Elderly, near-blind diabetic Cerys (Marta Lubos) is shuttled off to the city from her southern Andes home for cataract surgery, chaperoned most reluctantly by her bookish, bespectacled young nephew, Alejandro (Nahuel Perez Biscayart, “Glue”). He’s horrified when she reveals after their arrival that she’s secretly planned an entirely different mission: flying to Wales, where she hopes to locate the farm her mother emigrated from under mysterious circumstances almost a century ago.
This quest turns into a bit of a wild goose chase, putting aunt and nephew in contact with variably helpful locals. (They include Alejandro’s eventual romantic interest, played by rather too-glam Welsh pop star Duffy in her film debut.) En route, the uptight young man learns to loosen up and enjoy life a little, while his senior charge settles her accounts in preparation for a larger journey’s end.
By contrast, suffering a collective midlife crisis are the protags of the second story, both in their 30s or thereabouts. Multilingual couple Gwen (Nia Roberts) and Rhys (Matthew Gravelle) live in Cardiff, Wales; she’s an actress, he’s a photographer. Going through an apparent career slowdown, she decides to tag along on his assignment to shoot historic chapels of Welsh Patagonia. But what starts out as a romantic getaway turns uncomfortable, with vague tensions between the two exacerbated by her flirtatious affinity with handsome Mateo (Matthew Rhys), their driver and guide through the sparsely populated region.
Evans nimbly cuts between the two unhurried threads, which form a nice textural contrast in d.p. Robbie Ryan’s lensing of the disparate landscapes — one all lush, verdant hills, the other rich in desert hues. Jumping back and forth also helps balance out stories that might have seemed insubstantial if each stood alone. While attractively cast, the Rhys-Gwen-Mateo triangle suffers a bit from sketchy writing. Though the first two have been together some years, we really have no idea what their problems are, or why one sexy stranger could so easily trigger the relationship’s possible dissolution.
Cerys and Alejandro are more simply and satisfyingly conceived figures, their adventures’ more wryly comic tone suiting Evans and his thesps just fine. Still, this tale might have seemed too obvious a sentimental crowdpleaser if it couldn’t bounce off the other’s more ambivalent, adult tenor.
Perfs are strong all around, with tech/design contributions solid without risking the overslick packaging of most tourist-brochure cinema.