Thursday, September 11, 2014

Movie Review: The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
Directed by: Daniel Geller & Dayna Goldfine.
Written by: Dayna Goldfine and Daniel Geller and Celeste Schaefer Snyder.
Featuring the Voices of: Cate Blanchett (Dore Strauch), Sebastian Koch (Heinz Wittmer), Thomas Kretschmann (Friedrich Ritter), Diane Kruger (Margret Wittmer), Connie Nielsen (Baroness Von Wagner), Josh Radnor (John Garth), Gustaf SkarsgÄrd (Rolf Blomberg).

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden is a documentary about a mystery that happened in 1934 on one of the Galapagos Islands. It was a deserted island when Friedrich Richter and his girlfriend Dore Strauch left Germany to live out their days on the island. He was a successful doctor who was tired of society and felt increasingly alienated from it and decided he wanted out. In Dore, he found someone he thought could share his island retreat with him. At first, they are by themselves on that island – and although Dore finds it harder than she thought it would be and the two argue more than they thought they would – with no one else around it was inevitable. Then another German couple – the Wittmers – arrive, having read about the Ritters in the paper, and thought it sounded great. Margret Wittmer is pregnant, but doesn’t think it will be a problem – after all, Ritter is a doctor. It never dawns on them (for some reason) that a pair who left society wouldn’t want them around. Still, the two couples live in relative peace – that is until a self-stylized Baroness arrives – bringing with her two men, both of them appear to be her lovers, and plans to build a hotel on the island. She causes a massive stir – one that only ends when she, and one of her lovers, goes missing.

The documentary is mainly made up of a surprising amount of silent footage of the people involved – most often playing under the narration written by the two women – Dore Strauch and Margret Wittmer – and the other people involved in the case. The narration doesn’t really clarify anything because more often than not, the people involved have differing versions of events – as both cast suspicion onto the other couple, although both cast even more suspicion on the surviving lover. There is also narration by some of the various boat captains, who came to the island infrequently, and thought that nothing anyone was telling them made much sense. When the movie sticks to these narratives and counter narratives, it is a fascinating mystery – one that has no real resolution (although based on everything that happened afterwards, I have my suspicions.

But the movie adds other scenes – modern interviews with the descendants of the people involved, or just other people who inhabit the island now. Some of this is probably necessary – it helps to have someone verbalize all the different scenarios that may have played out with the disappearances. But some of it just isn’t necessary, as it details the lives of others on different islands, and the way they lived their lives – which is pretty much already covered by the narratives of the people directly involved. The film runs two hours, which for the amount of interesting material in the film feels a half hour or so too long. The filmmakers seem to have been swept up in the romance and beauty of the islands, and wanted to include everything they could in the film – but too much of it doesn’t really belong.

Still, there is enough interesting material here to make the film well worth spending a couple of hours with. It is a tantalizing mystery which is all the more interesting because it was never solved. The film is far from perfect, but it’s still fascinating.

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