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The Settlers

May 11, 2024
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Flicks with The Film Snob
The Settlers
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An indigenous Chilean is forced to accompany two white men massacring native people in Tierra del Fuego to make room for business and settlements.

The time is 1901, the place is Chile. A group of peons are putting up a fence in the middle of a fierce wind. One of the workers falls to the ground, unable to continue because of a bad arm. A man on horseback wearing the red coat of a British soldier comes up the hill. The worker begs for his life, but the British man shoots him dead on the spot. Another worker, an Indian, witnesses this. In his eyes we see him realize the terror of the situation. Thus begins The Settlers, the debut film of Chilean director Felipe Gálvez, a gripping testament of the truth behind the modern colonial history of Chile.

MacLennan, the British soldier, works for a wealthy Chilean rancher. He’s been given a new mission, to go south to Tierra del Fuego, the land at the southern tip of South America, grab whatever land he can, claiming it for Chile, and find a route to the sea for the rancher’s sheep to be driven for transport to overseas markets. He lines up the fence workers and has each of them shoot a rifle at targets that he’s set up. The Indian with the fierce gaze, whose name is Segundo, turns out to be a crack shot. So MacLennan chooses him to come along on his journey. It’s not as if he has a choice. It’s obvious from the fate of the worker that was killed that these peons are essentially enslaved by the rancher and his men. As they’re leaving, they’re joined by a third man, Bill, a mercenary from Texas assigned by the boss to accompany MacLennan and make sure he accomplishes his mission.

The bulk of the movie then follows these three horsemen as they travel through the stark mountainous lands of Patagonia. MacLennan is a man who drinks a lot and is subject to fits of rage. The tension is heightened because Bill, the man from Texas, hates Indians and is always complaining that you can’t trust Segundo, whom he calls “the half breed.” Bill is often hinting that they should just kill Segundo and go on without him, apparently assuming that the Indian only understands Spanish and not English.

The excellent color cinematography highlights the awesome and forbidding landscape, with the three men often dwarfed by the gigantic natural scenery of this arid wilderness. Soon, Segundo discovers the sickening truth—their mission includes murdering any and all native people that they encounter. Trigger warning here: The Settlers features horrifying scenes of massacre and abuse. Segundo is forced to participate in these crimes, or his white bosses will murder him as well. Even a sequence where they meet a group of land surveyors mapping the border between Chile and Argentina ends up devolving into a wrestling and fist fighting contest. It all culminates in an encounter with a rogue band of fighters led by a fierce British colonel, played by Sam Spruell, an impressive performer whom I recognized from the most recent season of the TV show Fargo.

Galvez is determined to trace Chile’s history back to the roots of violent settlement and displacement of indigenous Chileans. The film’s final section carefully displays how native people were quite deliberately turned into helpless figures of the country’s so-called cultural heritage. The Settlers is a film of uncompromising power.


TAGS
Chile,   exploitation,   Indian,   land theft,   massacre,  

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