Patagonia -- Film Review

Parallel on-the-road stories vie for attention and lose us along the way.

MILL VALLEY -- Characters are brought together by improbable coincidence in "Patagonia," an intermittently diverting road movie, whose alternation between parallel storylines grows tedious over the course of its two-hour running time.

The film, hampered by a gimmicky plot device -- two women travel in opposite directions, one from Wales to Patagonia and the other reverses that journey -- is somewhat redeemed by gorgeous cinematography of far flung locations not often seen in movies, and fine performances from its cast.

However, these assets are not enough to win it a slot in theaters. Its likely destination is DVD, following a festival run.

Hopping back and forth between continents, screenwriter Laurence Coriat and Welsh director Marc Evans establish gentle narrative rhythms. Subsidiary characters and subplots come and go but Mali Evans' editing facilitates smooth transitions. For the most part, audiences should be able to keep track of which country they're in.

The weaker of the two scenarios begins in Argentina. The elderly Cerys (Marta Lubos) fools her neurotic teenage neighbor, Alejandro (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), whose travel experience is limited to the interplanetary variety found in his favorite sci-fi novels, into accompanying her to Wales where she hopes to find her mother's village. They're an odd couple and their misadventures provide some comic relief, but one senses inevitable "life lessons" lay ahead.

Welsh singer Duffy makes an inauspicious film debut as Alejandro's love interest. They meet at a nightclub shortly before she passes out. When they run into each other again (implausible), they start a brief affair (incredible.)

The more compelling story, which could have stood on its own, follows Gwen (Nia Roberts), a thirty-something Cardiff actress who joins her photographer boyfriend, Rhys (Matthew Gravelle), on a working vacation in Patagonia, a land of golden light, soaring mountain peaks and 19th-century churches. Those features would be catnip for anyone with a camera and cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Andrea Arnold's DP on "Red Road" and "Fish Tank") takes full advantage of the spectacular scenery, whether shooting in the barren Patagonian desert or amidst the impossibly lush, rolling hills and pristine waterways of Wales.

The couple's relationship is unraveling, though initially the reasons why are unclear. The schism is exacerbated by the arrival of the handsome Mateo (Matthew Rhys), the strapping Patagonian guide who becomes a rival for Gwen's affections. Their flirtation, convincingly telegraphed through stolen glances, intimate gestures and the actors' palpable on-screen chemistry, turns combustible.

Gwen's restlessness and Rhys's growing awareness of her defection, the sexual competition between the two men and the tense romantic triangle that develops as well as the insidious sting of betrayal are astutely written and played. If only Patagonia had stayed in Patagonia.

Venue: Mill Valley Film Festival
Production: S4C & The Film Agency for Wales presentation in association with The Wales Creative IP Fund & JC Trust, Globe Productions, Pepper Post & Grenville Thomas, a Rainy Day Films/ Boom Films Production in association with Red Rum Films
Cast: Matthew Rhys, Marta Lubos, Nia Roberts, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Matthew Gravelle, Rhys Parry Jones, Duffy
Director: Marc Evans
Screenwriter: Laurence Coriat, Marc Evans
Executive producers: Claudia Bluemhuber, Pauline Burt, Chris Clark, Jane Coombes, Linda James, Stefan Jonas, Huw Penallt Jones, Marc Robinson, Grenville Thomas
Producers: Rebekah Gilbertson, Flora Fernandez-Marengo
Director of photography: Robbie Ryan
Production designer: Marie Lanna
Music: Joseph LoDuca
Costume designer: Marie Lanna
Editor: Mali Evans
Unrated, 122 minutes

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