Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Patagonia of Dreams (orig. Patagonia de los Sueños) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 - 4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Cinechile.cl listing*

Official website*

Cinechile.cl Interview (English) w. Director

Patagonia of Dreams (orig. Patagonia de los Sueños) [2013] [IMDb] [CCh]* (directed and co-written by Jorge López Sotomayor [IMDb] [CCh]* along with Gerardo Cáceres [IMDb] [CCh]* based on the Diary of Chantal Rouquaud*) is a Chilean / Argentinian film that played recently at the 30th Chicago Latino Film Festival.  The film played at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival last year.

Set in Buenos Aires and Patagonia of the latter part of the 1800s, it would be fair to compare the film to the famous Hollywood Post-Colonial "Colonial epic" Out of Africa [1985] as the issues / conflicts present are remarkably similar:

(1) In each case a European couple or family already of some means sets out to another land (actually under the jurisdiction of another European/Western power) to make (or re-make) their fortune.

Out of Africa [1985] is based on the memoirs the Karen Denisen (played in that film by Meryl Streep) who at the beginning of her story married a Swedish (lesser) baron named Bror von Brixen.  She soon moved with her new husband to Kenya (then British East Africa) where they wished to (re)establish a name for themselves with a coffee plantation.

Patagonia de los Sueños [2013] [IMDb] [CCh]* is inspired by the diary of Chantal Rouquaud (played in the film by Juanita Ringeling [IMDb] [CCh]*) who at the beginning of the story was the 17 year old daughter of M. and Mde. Rouquard (played by Martín Neglia [IMDb] [CCh]* and Alessandra Guerzoni [IMDb] [CCh]*).  The family though "already-of-some-means" back in France had emigrated to Argentina some years earlier in hopes of "increasing their station" there.  At the beginning of the story, we learn that M. Rouquard has staked the family's fortunes on establishing a "fish processing" operation out in the coastal wilds of Argentina's southern Patagonia region, to the distress of the 17-year-old Chantal who had been looking forward being a young and sought-after "belle of the balls" back in B.A.

(2) In each case, arrival out "in the colonies" (Kenya / British East Africa for the Von Brixens), Patagonia for the Rouguauds was a shock.  In both cases, they found themselves among truly tiny communities of Europeans/Westerners (white people...) in lands that, naturally, had belonged other NATIVE populations. What were the white European colonists doing there?

That's a very good question noted Patagonia de los Sueños [2013] [IMDb] [CCh]* director present at the film's screening and part of the reason why he made the film (not in any way to "glorify" Chile / Argentina's expansion Southward into Patagonia during the late 1800s but rather to put it in a general context of other Western/European colonial expansions occurring at the time all across the globe.

What made the Rouquauds feel that they deserved to go down to Patagonia to start a fish processing enterprise on land nominally conceded to them by Argentina but had clearly been inhabited by others since time immemorial?  What made the Von Brixens feel that they deserved to leave their smaller possessions in southern Scandinavia and try luck with a coffee plantation on land nominally conceded to them by the British Colonial authority but was on land that was inhabited by native Kenyans since time immemorial?  For that matter, what made the artist Paul Gauguin feel that he could to leave everything (including his own wife and kids) in France and "reestablish himself" on the French colonial "possession" of Tahiti and spend the rest of his life painting half-naked native Tahitian women on land nominally controlled by France but in reality had belonged to the Tahitian Polynesian people since time immemorial?   What made countless Europeans from 1500 through to the end of World War II leave their native lands and "try their luck" with all kinds of commercial ventures big and small on "other peoples' lands" and requiring various levels of immorality (ranging from simply setting-up a Mission or trading post on land that was initially largely empty but certainly _never_ previously "theirs" to displacement/marginalization of the native populations to enslavement to genocide) to do so?

Yet, of course, I write my blog from CHICAGO, today a city of 2.5 million and a metropolitan area of 8-10 million which started as a simple trading post founded in the 1780s by Jean Baptiste du Sable of African (Haitian) and French descent who thought it a wise idea to set one up near the mouth of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan (about 100-200 meters from where the AMC River East-21 Movie Theater where I saw the current film stands today ;-).  A few miles upstream, the Chicago River comes within a mile of the Des Plaines River, which flows into the Illinois River and then into the Mississippi.  So Du Sable's trading post (and modern Chicago) fell on the crossroads of a shipping route that could extend from the North Atlantic (the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Canada) down the St. Lawrence River across the chain of the Great Lakes and then by means of this geographic accident of the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers coming so close to each other all the way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.  Is North America a better place because Du Sable had the foresight to setup a trading post here in what subsequently became the metropolis of Chicago?   And while it is true that Native American tribes who used to live in the Chicago area were eventually forcibly removed / wiped-out (as a consequence of the Blackhawk War) that was not an inevitability but rather a subsequent choice by the American government that eventually took definitive hold of the region.  (The same could be said of the fate of the the native peoples of Patagonia on whose lands the Rauguauds initially set-up their still quite little fish processing facility.  It wasn't necessarily inevitable that the Argentinian government would unleash a campaign of genocide against the native peoples on their lands, or the Chilean government would marginalize the natives onto North American style reservations).    

(3) As in the case of the experience of the Von Brixens in Kenya (British East Africa) the experience of the Rauguauds in Patagonia was one where there was international tension in the air.  Not only was there the question of the morality of "coming from far away" to "establish themselves" on "other peoples' land", there was competition between "Great" or "Regional Powers" over the land.  In the case of the Von Brixens, the competition was between the British in what today is Kenya and the Germans whose East African possessions became today's Tanzania.  In the case of the Rauguauds, the tension was between Argentina and Chile, who both claimed large portions of Patagonia and even the British who had a colony on the Falkland Islands / Malvinas (over which there was the (in)famous 1982 War between Argentina and Britain).

(4) If there is a lot of subtext to both stories -- colonialism, the mistreatment of the native peoples as a consequence, international rivalry, even the role of women (as both Out of Africa [1985] and Patagonia de los Sueños [2013] were told an basis of recollections by (then) relatively young women of their experiences of "colonial life" that wasn't necessarily chosen ... both probably would have preferred initially to stay in their native lands if they had been given a choice, instead they had to obey the men in their lives and try "to make the best of things" when they go there -- both stories are ultimately about the individuals present in the stories.

In both cases, there scoundrels, and there were noble types. Both Out of Africa [1985]'s Karen Denisen von Brixen (played in that film by Meryl Streep) and Patagonia de los Sueños [2013] Chantal (played by Juanita Ringeling [IMDb] [CCh]*) matured as a result of their experiences in the colonies.  And both found their soul mates out there: Karen von Brixen found the dashing bush pilot Denys (played in the film by Robert Redford), while Chantal found the German born ethnographer/artist Thomas Ohlsen (played in the film by Ariel Canale [IMDb] [CCh]*) whose drawings of the Tehuelche people of Patagonia remain among the best records of their way of life in the early years of contact with the Europeans/the West.

All in all, North American and European viewers who like history would probably find this historical drama about the Rauguaud family's experience in Patagonia of the late 1800s fascinating and its viewing might inspire discussions about the nature, circumstances and legacy of the European/Western Colonial Era in general.  Again, what (besides simply "Manifest Destiny" arrogance) drove so many Europeans to seek both better lives and even fortunes all across the globe at that time? 

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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