From its thunderous score, which sounds at times like someone dismantling an orchestra with a mallet, to the huge, intimidating, blood-red lettering of the intertitles, to the gut punch of an opening scene: violence, or the threat of it, lurks in every frame of Felipe Gálvez Haberle’s assured debut.

Opening in 1901 in the sprawling wilderness of Tierra del Fuego, Chile, this Spanish- and English-language film is partly based on true events – including multiple massacres of the indigenous Selk’nam people by white settlers – and explores a grim period in Chile’s colonial past that has subsequently been all but written out of the country’s history books.

Mark Stanley stars as Alexander MacLennan, a Scottish soldier hired by wealthy landowner José Menéndez (a chilling, chisel-faced Alfredo Castro). MacLennan has been charged with clearing a “safe route” across Menéndez’s land; he’s accompanied on the mission by an American mercenary, Bill (Benjamin Westfall), and taciturn tracker Segundo (Camilo Arancibia), whose mixed lineage makes him the target of Bill’s goading racist outbursts. MacLennan’s idea of a safe route, it turns out, is strewn with the bodies of the former inhabitants.

Not everything in this Leone-inspired Latino western hits its target, but the picture has a venomous bite, and a smart, slippery final scene that turns the lens back on to the act of film-making, questioning cinema’s role in (mis)shaping the way we view history.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here