A young couple, Rhys (played by a Welsh James Nesbitt) and Gwen (married to the director) are travelling first to Buenos Aires, and then on to the breathtaking landscape of Patagonia. Though seemingly content, the pair are really attempting to escape the heartbreak of being unable to conceive, and when Gwen meets a hunky Welsh-speaking Argentinian, the strain on their relationship reaches breaking point. Meanwhile, a little mischievous Argentinian pensioner Cerys (Marta Lubos) tricks her young neighbour Alejandro (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) into travelling with her to Wales, in search of her mother’s old farm.
Thus split into two separate plots, Patagonia quickly establishes itself as a film that is happy to juggle apparently utterly unconnected circumstances. However, as we follow these two tales it soon becomes clear that there are parallels to be drawn (aren’t there always), with both scenarios enriching the other. What follows is something between an adventure/romance/road movie hybrid, as the each couple travel through a foreign land; Cerys and Alejandro looking exotic and out of place against the dense Welsh greenery, Rhys and Gwen looking drawn and pale against the dusty browns of the Argentinian landscape.
It has to be said that the Patagonian strand of the adventure was visually far stronger; there were points during the film’s two hour duration when I wanted Gwen and Rhys to put the implosion of their relationship on hold so I could admire the Patagonian scenery, but unfortunately they didn’t. Much of the plot draws from the folk tale of Blodeuwedd, in which a Cymric goddess, (made of flowers) has an affair, and as punishment is turned into an owl. Though this seems to most obviously refer to Gwen and Rhys’ marital problems, Cerys herself even looks like an owl, her enormous glasses magnifying her enormous eyes, and though once again not particularly subtle, the notion of her finding her wings and flying (quite literally) to Wales, is quite sweet. Parallels are also drawn between the original Welsh settlers finding hardship in Patagonia, and Rhys and Gwen’s discovery that the land is as green as they had hoped.
On an un-owl-related note, there’s Duffy. Duffy, Duffy, Duffy. Welsh singing Duffy. I’m always filled with dread when I see a name like that on the credits; Meatloaf, Madonna, Will.i.am, but Duffy was something of a pleasant surprise. She plays Sissy, the daughter of a campsite owner, and the romantic interest for Alejandro when he and his elderly friend arrive on their quest to find the farm. Her performance is of no lesser standard than the rest of the cast, and her Spanish version of Antony Hegarty’s “Hope There’s Someone” over the end credits is sublime. Good job, Duffy.
Patagonia is charming, smile inducing and at times heartbreaking as it reminds us that even in beautiful places, human relationships are messy, complicated and, occasionally, a little bit annoying. While not perfect: a meandering ending and the somewhat unrelenting nature of the young couple’s relationship woes do drag you down somewhat, it is still wonderfully told, and it shot so beautifully that it’s difficult not to forgive it everything else.