Article by Sara Longo
Translation by Lara Martelozzo
“What happens to a country when an entire page of its history is erased?” This is the starting point of Felipe Gálvez’s debut feature film Los colonos (“The settlers”). A raw and refined film that, through the journey of three men charged by landowner Jose Menéndez to find a
“safe” – meaning “cleansed” of Indians – route to the shores of the Atlantic, brings attention to the genocide of the indigenous Selk’nam people perpetrated at the beginning of the 20th century for long obscured by Chile’s official history.
Los colonos is a plural film, and its title is the first evidence of this. Within it lurk deeply layered stories of abuse and prevarication that have their roots in the “discovery” of the New World by the first European colonizers up to recent history – Gálvez recalls that in the same places where the massacre of Indians took place, seventy years later the Pinochet regime exterminated political prisoners. Plural, too, are the languages spoken in the film, often mixed, inverted, reversed back and forth in their conversations. Plural are the identities of the settlers: the Texan Bill who bears the responsibility for the extermination of the
Comanches, Moreno who guards a border between two territories belonging to the same despot, MacLennan who calls himself a lieutenant in the British navy when in fact he is neither a lieutenant nor an Englishman: “You are Scottish! Have some respect for yourself!”.
Lost identities, wounded identities, unable to recognize themselves in a communion of purpose and yet all traced back to a common bestiality – Bill can “sniff out” the Indians, MacLennan acts as a taskmaster – to a sharing of the same sordid violence, enacted or suffered.
Segundo Molina, who leads them through Patagonia, is at the heart of these contradictions: of Mapuche mother and Spanish father, he embodies the colonization of which he is the son, a helpless witness to the massacres of the Indians and a living memory that is (almost) never given a word.
Los colonos thus appears as a deconstructed Western, in which the canons are reversed with pristine spaces cramped in the 3:2 ratio, horseback crossings leading not to redeeming places but to the “end of the world”, explorers who are anything but heroic, and in which the
epic narrative is replaced by an authentic and therefore painful violence. Plural, finally, is the relationship between History, Memory and Cinema as a tool of preservation but also omission. A synthesis of insoluble paradoxes that make Chilean identity painfully fragmented, Los colonos attempts to restore to its people an important piece of a decomposed legacy.