Felipe Gálvez Haberle (director)
09 February 2024 (released)
08 February 2024
In many respects this is one for the scholars of South American history and more particular the founding of Chile as a nation.
There are many depressing elements in this film that will be familiar to those who have seen the likes of Dances With Wolves and right up to date with Killers of the Flower Moon. Namely the clearance of indigenous people for nefarious schemes to make money and achieve political power.
In The Settlers its Don Menendez (Alfredo Castro) who already has vast tracts of land and wants to expand to the Atlantic coast. To this end he employs the bitter ex British army officer Alexander MacLennan (Mark Stanley) to pick a lackey, the indigenous marksman Segundo (Camilo Arancibia) while forcing him to take Texan Bill (Benjamin Westfall).
Its immediately obvious that these people are not going to get on with the Brit and American squabbling. Segundo keeping out of the way. Also their true mission, the clearance of the indigenous Onas from the land is enacted. Defenceless they are picked off though Segundo fires his rifle into the air rather than shoot anyone. But he can’t get away from the carnage totally and he’s forced into an impossible, horrific situation.
Later on they come across a senior British officer, the disgraced Colonel Martin (Sam Spruell). He carries the airs of his commissioned rank and privilege though perverted by corruption, he gratuitously exposes MacLennan for what he is.
The film then moves forward seven years to the home of Don Menendez known as Chancho Colorado (Red Pig) now massively wealthy and powerful. He’s visited by Marcial Vicuna (Marcelo Alonso) to talk to him about the nascent Chilean state and activities that lead to its founding.
There is a very strange air about The Settlers at once magical in a grimly beautiful terrain it is also brutal on the eye. The landscape harsh the invaders with a mission harsher. MacLennan shoots a man dead because he loses an arm and can no longer work.
And yet director Felipe Gálvez Haberle and co-writers Antonia Giradi and Mariano Llinás haven’t done anything that is particularly innovative. The gruff, dirty men in a rough terrain, racist to the bone. Their sense of entitlement stemming from prejudice and enforced by their weapons is well trodden.
What this film has is a sense of the hallucinogenic at times. For a film as panoramic as this, the composition within the academy ratio is unusual. This closes up the landscapes somewhat, at the same time honing in on the madness and the men, as MacLennan begins to lose control, with Segundo looking on.
The acting is excellent throughout. Some actors' characters could so easily have slipped into scene chewing mode. Thankfully they don't, maintaining a sense of measure without any loss of potency. Its invidious to pick someone out but Spruell as the malevolent, gloating entitled Colonel Martin is sublime.
The Settlers will be out in UK and Irish cinemas on 9 February 2024.