Escape from Patagonia describes some harrowing experiences of famed 19th century Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno, based on his own publications. Moreno and his companions have to flee persecution by an indigenous tribe who accuse them of being government spies.
The film – co-directed by Javier Zevallos and Francisco D’Eufemia – throws us directly into the action, right at the point after they escape their imprisonment by the tribe. And for the entire length of this feature film, the outward plot of the escape is accompanied by a counter-point, a slow realisation on the part of Moreno that his work, however well intentioned, might actually have contributed to the suffering of the natives.
This second element is, unfortunately, not done very elegantly. The “message” is too on-the-nose. This is a shortcoming of the otherwise very decent writing by Javier Zevallos. But the problem was probably also exacerbated by the fact that the outward plot, which is to a certain degree “epic” in the form of a Western, kept shrinking during the shooting and editing stages. Francisco D’Eufemia edited the film, constantly discussing the process with Zevallos. They were faced with the fact that some shots were impossible, or the scenes simply did not look or feel right. And on a reported budget of 100.000 US-Dollars you naturally cannot afford to travel back on location and call the actors in for re-shoots. So the story had to be told with the material at hand, and – as is always the case in editing – for every scene they took out because it did not work they had to take out three others that were connected to that scene. The end result is a very short film of under 80 minutes, which tells a perfectly coherent, well-paced story, but which lacks the broadness and roominess of a Western and is thus in an odd contrast to the source material, the genre, and the awe-inspiring images of the Patagonian landscape.
It is the landscape that is the film’s biggest asset. D’Eufemia and Zevallos spent years scouting for locations in Patagonia, mostly shooting at the very spots Moreno described in his reports, but sometimes switching to equivalent alternative locations nearby whenever progress in the form of roads or buildings made an authentic shoot at the exact location impossible. By using nature in all its beauty and all its unbridled force as the centrepiece of their film, D’Eufemia and Zevallos created a sublime document of Patagonia. And it is an impressive feat to undertake such an on-location shpt on the wilderness with a tiny budget and a skeleton crew, and yet manage to end up with such beautiful cinematography.
The acting by the small cast is very good, and again the difficult production in the wilderness should be mentioned, as the actors had to film scenes in challenging terrain, including on or in water.
Escape from Patagonia is not an outstanding film; but it is very well made, good looking, and a low-budget achievement in film-making – especially considering it is the directorial debut for its two directors. And because of its short running time it is well worth checking out if you think the landscape or the genre might interest you.
Rating: 6.0 to 6.5 out of 10