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CANNES 2023 Un Certain Regard

Review: The Settlers


- CANNES 2023: Felipe Gálvez's punchy debut feature, a Tierra del Fuego Western in early 20th century Chile, lifts the veil on the ethnic cleansing carried out by capitalism

Review: The Settlers
Mark Stanley, Camilo Arancibia and Benjamin Westfall in The Settlers

"Your herds are now so voracious that they devour men." This quote from Thomas More's Utopia sets the tone perfectly, as a preamble to Felipe Gálvez's immersion in Chile at the beginning of the 20th century with his powerful first feature film, The Settlers [+see also:
interview: Felipe Gálvez
film profile
, discovered in the Un Certain Regard programme of the 76th Cannes Film Festival. An uncompromising mirror of the past behaviour of the country's owners towards the Native populations, who were considered as animals that hindered their economic interests, and therefore to be exterminated if necessary, the film takes the path of the Western and the road movie in immense and breathtaking landscapes where the borders are still being refined, to deliver a macabre photography and to give justice to the Native victims through the image.

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"The problem is the Natives. They eat the herds. Open up a safe and fast route to the Atlantic for my sheep. And clean up!". We are in Tierra del Fuego, in 1901, a few workers are putting up fences in a deserted pampa as far as the eye can see and José Menéndez (Alfredo Castro), nicknamed "the king of white gold" and owner of all the neighbouring lands up to several days by horse, entrusts a very special mission to his henchman on the spot, the ruthless Lieutenant MacLennan (Mark Stanley), joining him with Bill (Benjamin Westfall), an American mercenary who "they say can smell a Native from miles away". The trio is completed by Segundo (Camilo Arancibia), a young mixed-race worker who is an extremely accurate marksman, and the journey begins... A ride to the ends of the earth that will have its share of corpses as it passes through rare encounters, from the plains to the forests, from the foot of the Andes to the sea...

Particularly well constructed with its final part dedicated seven years later to a governmental investigation (aiming to lift the veil on the violations committed and to bring to justice regional potentates who had become rich at the price of Native blood) sailing from the bourgeois salons of Punta Arenas to the island of Chiloe, the screenplay of The Settlers digs into its subject with arm wrestling and violent settlements of scores between the various protagonists, in an environment where it was very easy to acquire a new identity and to give way to the darkest inclinations. Making the most of its settings, the film knows how to adapt its rhythm to its subject, alternating between discussions in bivouacs and totally unexpected flashes of brilliance, in order to slip a lesson in History under its envelope of action. A history that is reflected in the Native Americans' deep, unmoving gazes as business goes on, just rebranded with a semblance of justice because "blood-stained wool loses its value".

Produced in Chile (Quijote Films), in co-production with Argentina (Rei Cine), Denmark (Snowglobe), the United Kingdom (Quiddity Films), France (Ciné-Sud Promotion), Germany (Sutor Kolonko) and Taiwan (Volos Films), The Settlers is sold by mk2 Films.

The movie has been developed in the frame of the TFL programme FeatureLab 2018 and it received the TFL Co-Production Award 2018 (€ 50,000) thanks to the support of Creative Europe - MEDIA programme of the European Union.

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(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)

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