San Sebastian 2023 | ‘The Settlers’ is a savage and genocidal Western that deserves to win the Oscar

The Chilean filmmaker Felipe Galvez debuts in the feature film with The settlers, which has been chosen by Chile as its candidate before the Hollywood Academy for the Oscars. At the last Cannes Festival, the film was awarded the FIPRESCI award for best film in the Un Certain Regard section, where it premiered.

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It’s about a western with old breath and beautiful image where the genocide of the indigenous Selk’nam people is addressed head-on, using (and reappropriating during the process) the narrative codes of the most symbolic cinematographic genre and influencing the interested construction of history and its aesthetic representations by the powerful.


Three men spread terror in Tierra del Fuego. Patagonia has plenty of reasons to be an unbeatable setting for filming a Western, the cinematographic genre par excellence where the image (the environment, the landscape) always has the last word. The Chilean Felipe Gálvez’s debut film is an exemplary case in which very different manifestations of the genre nest.

In his plans, carefully captured by a Simone D’Arcangelo (The Legend of the Crab King) specialized in taking the last epic breath from the most rugged expanses, resonate from echoes of silent cinema and spaghetti westerns, of the classics and their revisionist reformulations. A historical compendium of the genre that did more to enhance the myth of cinema and less to provide a fair memory of mostly atrocious historical events.

The settlers addresses one of the most silenced massacres of an Amerindian town: the genocide of the Selknam people, inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego who were massacred at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century when livestock companies led and promoted their extermination to take control of the lands through which they intended to give way to their sheep. Mercenaries and bandits with inhuman morals were hired and paid for each killed indigenous person, whose murder could be proven by presenting an ear torn off the body.

Gálvez puts together the story of the massacre with the coldness of historical events and the cruelty conferred by the blackness of the human soul, offering a crude and violent Western that has been compared to the ruthless tone of a possible adaptation of blood meridian, of Cormac McCarthy and that can also remind us of the approaches to the genre of S. Craig Zahler, whether in movies like Bone Tomahawk (2015) or novels like Specters in a broken land (2013).

All the violence and disregard for human life is even more disturbing when you discover that The settlers He creates fictional characters but he also has real ones. Alfredo Castro He plays a rich land magnate with creepy rigidity, José Menéndez, Spanish businessman based in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, who hires three hitmen to ‘clean’ his land of indigenous people.

The colorful protagonist trio is made up of a violent Scottish soldier named MacLennan. (Mark Stanley) Texas cowboy Bill (Benjamin Westfall) and Second, a mestizo helper (Camilo Arancibia). The instability of their union is evident from the first moment, since More than a group with a mission, they look like a nitroglycerin bomb ready to explode.

The hostile places those they wander around do not help to calm them, nor do their encounters with other undesirable members of the human species such as a group of Argentinians (among whom he makes a cameo appearance). Mariano Llinás, director of The flower) or English people who contribute to further clouding a despicable experience.

Years later, historiography will take charge of whitewashing it or molding it to its liking even when it tries to denounce it. Because The settlers concludes with a sensational chronological leap (although not as radical and daring as that of Jauja (2014), the masterful Patagonian Western by Lisandro Alonso) that speaks of the distorting gaze of the white man even in situations in which he supposedly seeks accountability of their nonsense.

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