The Patagonia director talks about the making of his geographical love story.
BAFTA winning director Marc Evans’ latest film, Patagonia, is a visually compelling geographical love story between two distant locations and three very different individuals. As one couple sets off from Wales to the bizarrely intriguing Welsh settlement in Patagonia in Argentina, an elderly Argentinean lady journeys in the opposite direction to hunt down the birth home of her mother, armed only with a grainy black and white photograph.
Evans’ artful contrasting of the two stories is decorated by his hugely rewarding efforts to capture the beauty of both countries; his colourful use of an old Bolex camera makes the Argentinean landscape glow. LWLies chatted to Evans recently about the draw of Patagonia and how he developed the idea for the film.
LWLies: Did you have a personal connection to Patagonia?
Evans: If you’re brought up speaking Welsh it’s one of those things that’s a great addition to your life. When I was in infant school our head teacher came back from Patagonia with stories of Welsh speaking cowboys. That immediately felt like fiction. It’s like the Welsh Lourdes. We knew quite a lot of blokes that go over there photographing the place. This idea that you can photograph the past adds a certain otherness and recognisability to the place that makes a lot of Welsh males of a certain age be obsessed with it. Mathew Rees is one of them.
Where did the stories for the film come from?
I went over with the cinematographer Robbie Ryan to have a look, and the journey we took was pretty much the journey that the couple in the film take. The Welsh story I already had from before as a short story and the Patagonia story we wrote by the time we’d reached the end of that journey. With Cerys’ character it was getting to Wales and longing for a past that doesn’t really exist. For Gwen it was to go there and get away from the reality of her present. You can shag a Patagonian farmer, but you can’t really then just live here, that idea of cultural tourism is a myth. There’s that feeling that everybody has when they’re travelling – those moments aren’t world changing, but they are universal and cinema can capture those moments that are about tone rather than words, and so the film was dealing with that really.
Was capturing the scenery and imagery of the country an attraction?
Totally. I wanted to do something that involved more time to reflect on where you are. Especially with Robbie Ryan doing the cinematography. So second journey we took we knew where we were going to go. In Patagonia you’re going from the sea to the mountains in the autumn and then Wales you’re going from the industrial South to the more pagan, beautiful north in our spring. In a way that just got our juices flowing.
Was the aim to make a visual comparison of Argentina and Wales?
When I was writing it I was thinking of Wales as so green and so wet and fecund. And that would be someone coming over and trying to find their version of the promised land and getting to a service station on the M4 in the rain. The when it came to filming, Spring turned up and it was just gorgeous. So what we ended up with was a gorgeous picture of Wales and a gorgeous picture of Argentina, which is fine because it made it visually lovely to watch, but the original was probably in some way the more true film. Wet Wales is the Wales I know, and what it’s usually like.
Were you almost spoilt for choice for places to shoot in Patagonia?
When we went to the second time with Robbie Ryan we talked and had this idea of going to Chilena, which is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hung out before they got killed. Robbie and I went there and had one of those moments when the river was high, there was snow on the mountains, it was a very peaceful place. There were horses wondering around in the twilight, it was such an amazing place. When we went back to shoot the film, the season had changed; the river was arid and there was no snow in the mountains. So we didn’t shoot there, but we evoked it in the film as an almost mythical place.
Was the idea to shoot scenes on a Bolex camera anything beyond the aesthetics?
Time lapse is a particularly onerous way of stopping time. It’s like the torturous ticks of time passing. You can get sucked into it as an obsessive form of photography. It’s like fishing, it takes a lot of time and patience. It seemed like a suitable interest for the character of Rhys, who was obsessed with his culture. I didn’t put it in the dialogue, but he goes over to take pictures of chapels, but if you look around you there’s the Andes! I was interested in a character who genuinely wanted to do that, but also bring his girlfriend along. I love the fact that when the character returns home, the only image he’s managed to get is a mobile phone picture of his wife. For me the visual texture of that character was trying desperately to capture the past. Because with time lapse you’re compressing time, which doesn’t get more godlike for photographic ambition.
Did you have a particular intention for the film in terms of tone or genre?
My ambition was to make a Sunday afternoon film, really. The sort of film you’d go and see in the good old days, when there were more foreign films showing, and you’d go with a hangover and be transported somewhere. You’d have that feeling you have when you travel of traces of places and people. Like when Cerys walks through the same space as Gwen in the museum, but they never meet. I like that, I don’t know what it means, but it represents something you feel when you travel: people have been before and people will come again.
Duffy seems like a strange casting choice, how did that come about?
It probably was quite strange. At the point that it happened she was looking for something to be involved with and we met and started chatting about stuff. She wanted to do something with acting but hadn’t properly thought it through. Duffy’s full of ideas. Duffy’s a girl from Nefyn, which is a small town in Gwynedd, she could have been that girl on the caravan site so easily. But at some point you have to question whether you’re doing this for the right reasons – the wrong reason’s would be to get your film financed because Universal are supporting the soundtrack, though that would be the politically shrewd thing to do. I thought it was right because she could have been that character, and then when you see her at the end crying with mascara running down her cheek, that’s proper acting that is.
Are you currently working on a follow up film?
The next one is called Hunky Dory – a sort of love letter to David Bowie. It’s very joyous and sweet, I’m cutting free from death! It’s set in 1976 and based on a slightly over idealistic teacher, played brilliantly by Minnie Driver as a Welsh hippie chick, who puts on a rock ‘n’ roll version of 'The Tempest'. It’s partly inspired by the Langley School project where the teacher wanted to get them interested in music and got them to record pop songs. They came across the tapes years later of kids singing 'Desperado' and 'Long And Winding Road' and 'Space Odyssey'. David Bowie famously said that no amount of mind expanding drugs could have made him come up with such an interesting version of his own songs. So we had this idea of, not being anti-Glee, but a kind of slacker musical.