A mercanary threatens violence

The Settlers is a harrowing look at the history of settler colonialism in the southernmost territories of Chile and Argentina—Tierra del Fuego. Directed by Felipe Gálvez, the film is set in 1901 and follows the true story of a Scottish ex-soldier, Alexander MacLennan (Mark Stanley). MacLennan works for wealthy landowner José Menéndez (Alfredo Castro). Menéndez seeks to “cleanse” the local Indigenous population from his lands to build his sheep herding business and squeeze out more profit. He sends MacLennan on an expedition to mark out the borders of his territories. The goal is actually to kill as many Indigenous Selk’nam people as possible.

Alongside MacLennan rides Bill (Benjamin Westfall)—an American mercenary from Texas. They are also joined by sniper Segundo Molina (Camilo Arancibia) who is of Indigenous and European heritage. Molina is forced into joining in with the murder.

Their journey provides a window into the dynamics of colonial society and the oppression faced by colonised people. MacLennan—known as the Chancho Rojo or “Red Pig” after his British Army Red Coat—was notorious for brutality and genocidal acts. The massacres depicted in the film are gruesome and based on reality. The horrors include landowners giving “one pound sterling for every ear” of a murdered Indigenous person.

Both Argentina and Chile shared the goal of clearing the lands for the development of business. In the film, a close ally of Menéndez is a local priest who defends him. The Church was often complicit in justifying the genocides as “civilising” missions. In Tierra del Fuego the massacres saw the population of the native Selk’nam people drop from 4,000 in 1880 to just 100 in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, settlers cashed in on opportunities created by new ventures into agriculture and livestock. At the start of the film Menéndez is based in an encampment in a barren landscape. Seven years later, he sits in a lavish mansion. Galvéz’s film seeks to contribute to an oppositional cultural movement and an alternative telling of colonial history.

The Settlers is in selected cinemas from 9 February

Poor Things—a bold and daring reframing of Frankenstein

Hilarious and experimental, everyone should see Poor Things, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. The film tells the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone)—a child reborn into a grown woman’s body. Bella is the creation of her twisted scientist “father” (Willem Dafoe) who she calls “God”. It’s a daring coming of age story where Bella naively explores the Victorian man’s world she is born into.

She discovers how women are treated as part of a wider unjust world. Bella’s growing need for experience pushes her to escape from her father’s house with her lover (Mark Ruffalo)—a supposedly carefree hedonist. The pair embark on a whirlwind sex-fuelled adventure.

She travels to Egypt and sees for the first time slums and deep poverty. Her unending curiosity leads her to dump her lover. Material pressures lead her to working in a Parisian brothel. Bella’s lack of experience of women’s oppression makes her oblivious to the obedience expected of her as she develops her own sexuality. The film has generated debate into its merits as a feminist film.

The irony with Bella being the “female Frankenstein’s monster” is transparent. Frankenstein was written by pioneering young woman—Mary Shelley—but Bella is a creation of men both in and out of the film. Bella finds male attempts to control her as confusing—she either dismisses them or overcomes them.

Critics say it’s a male fantasy of a woman’s self-discovery. But for all her naivety, Bella is a complex and developed character. In the end, the men in the film seem much more trapped than she is.

Poor Things is out in cinemas now

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