DVD: Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, The (2013)

September 19, 2014 | By


GalapagosAffairFilm: Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Zeitgeist Films

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  September 9, 2014

Genre:  Documentary

Synopsis: Part true crime / insular island lifestyle documentary rooted to mysterious disappearance of an egotistical German Baroness and her lover on the isolated island of Floreana in the exotic Galapagos.

Special Features:  14 Deleted Scenes / Telluride Film Festival Q&A / Theatrical Trailer






The latest collaboration from documentarians Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine (Ballets Russes) is what’s ostensibly a true life (and likely true crime) tale of three sets of eccentric European settlers who carved out their own respective pockets of paradise on the harsh Galapagos island of Floreana during the 1930s, and after enduring jealousies, drought, and internecine levels of contempt, were  jolted by a series of peculiar disappearances and tragedies.

It’s a complex tale which could’ve been told within a half hour using rudimentary visuals, but Geller and Goldfine had the serendipitous use of rare amateur movies, stills, and personal diary entries and letters from all three parties to reconstruct an amazingly detailed chronicle of human selfishness, vanity, and meanness in what was supposed to be an escape from the cruel, uncivilized post-WWI German and Norway as Hitler & Co. were taking further steps towards conquering Europe.

The pair did meticulous research, interviewed descendants of the first two couples, local islanders, and relatives back in Europe to build up their chronology of paradise soured, but what began as a documentary on the suspicious disappearance of a disliked couple morphed into a longer film with tangents detailing the anthropological roots of European settlers in this far away region of the world; life as an insular islander; and the sociological changes that followed as tourism and modern conveniences changed a once idyllic world.

At best, that’s at least a two-part documentary mini-series here, but the filmmakers were convinced all three strands could be woven into a fluid narrative, but each time the tale of the settlers and the looming disappearance gets into gear, the directors hit the Pause button, splintering their film to make room for present day observations or views from descendants; it’s a decision that often redirects us away from the core story.

In a nutshell, the main story involves brilliant German surgeon Friedrich Ritter (beautifully voiced by Thomas Kretchmann) and his homely wife Dore Strauch (voiced by Cate Blanchett) who’ve left Nazi Germany and their respective families to live out Nietzche’s ideal on a remote tropical island, only to have fellow German interlopers – Heinz Wittmer (A Good Day to Die Hard’s Sebastian Koch), pregnant Margret (The Bridge’s Diane Kruger) and their son – arrive and establish their own rough-in-the-wilds homestead. As if jealousies, snobbishness, and mistrust weren’t enough, along comes a pompous German Baroness (Connie Nielsen) and a pair of architect / engineers, Lorenz and Rolf, who plan to build the Baroness’ dream project: a tourist hacienda for wealthy travelers.

The Ritters form an emotional allegiance with the Wittmers since they share mutual contempt for the Baroness, whereas the Baroness soon gains the attention of an itinerant philanthropist who moors his boat offshore so scientists could film the exotic humans of Floreana, and later craft a home movie starring the Baroness and her male lovers as, er, pirates.

That all of this exists in print, still, and film form is remarkable – the directors negotiated a deal to fund the preservation of the already fragile footage residing at UCLA for rights to use the footage in the doc – but it is the pettiness that makes this crazy tale funny, surreal, and ultimately tragic: after a sudden distant cry, the Baroness and Rolf vanish, and third wheel Lorenz suffers quite horribly soon after, while the Ritters are affected by a very naïve, stupid blunder which a doomed Friedrich Ritter notes as absurdly ironic.

At two hours, Galapagos Affair is way too long – 90 mins. would’ve sufficed, with the extra material fitting into a deleted scene gallery – but there are moments where the fate of the settlers is very haunting. It’s hard not to regard the Europeans as naïve in thinking they could escape the social perils of the so-called civilized world, but as Ritter’s great-nephew relates in the doc’s most important interview segment, ‘If you’re the problem, then you’re destined to repeat and experience the same ills wherever you attempt to flee,’ and Ritter’s idealism and harsh treatment of Dore during their stay on Floreana kind of ensured their relationship wouldn’t be as rich and supportive as the Wittmers – the family who remained on the island, and whose descendants now run a tourist resort.

The voice casting is near-perfect, but while Blanchett gets the pronunciation of German words and names right, her accent is too feeble, especially when surrounded by a mixed German and Scandinavian cast. Kretschmann, familiar to horror fans for The Stendahl Syndrom (1996), Rohtenburg (2006), and Dracula 3D (2012), is marvelous, and its his resonating voice reading Friedrich’s austere German diary entries which helps viewers return to the core drama after being repeatedly re-routed by those present-day interviews.

Zeitgeist’s DVD features a clean transfer of the film with rich sound design, Laura Karpman’s fine score, and a deleted scenes gallery with montages of the local wildlife plus additional scenes that were once part of an early edit but were wisely dropped to ensure the film ran tighter, and shorter, than its likely 150 min. rough cut form.

Flaws aside, The Galapagos Affair is still a fascinating tale of the human pettiness that seethes with when refugees of modern society flee for relief, and find perhaps greater folly from intimate irritations on an isle from which they can’t easily escape, and more pointedly, all refuse to abandon out of sheer stubbornness.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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