Separado! Movie Review
When Gruff Rhys, frontman for the Super Furry Animals, realises that noted Welsh-Argentine singer Rene Griffiths is a distant uncle, he decides to find out more about his musical heritage. He traces it back to an 1880s scandal that split his family and sent one branch to join a Welsh community in South America. So Rhys heads off to Brazil, Buenos Aires, Patagonia and the Argentine Andes, meeting Welsh descendants along the way, many of whom still speak the old language. And virtually all of them are musical.
As he travels, Rhys plays a series of offbeat gigs for the people he meets, mainly witty electronica and folk tunes, all in search of his own musical legacy. We also see the locals' performances, plus footage of Griffiths' 1970s tour of the UK, which was documented by the BBC. There's also a brief history of the interaction between these Welsh expats and the indigenous people. And all of this is intriguingly linked by music and culture.
Rhys hosts the film as if he's travelling through time and space with the help of a bright red Power Rangers-style helmet. As he pops in and out of various locations, we get a sense of connection between these two different lands. The new footage of Rhys' journey has a scruffy charm that captures the raw physical beauty of the various landscapes, often prismed into drifting split-screens.
And there are plenty of stills and archive clips to give us glimpses into the past, as well as a few lively re-enactments.
The film has a smart and inventive style, and a lot of warmth and affection, but it also feels rather freeform and aimless. Sure, there's this central quest to find Griffiths (which leads to a couple of terrific gags), but watching it will require patience with Rhys' distinctive sense of humour. And it also helps if you have an interest both in Wales and in South America's complex colonial history.