Locarno 2023 review: Patagonia (Simone Bozzelli)

“This Rimbaldian ode to love and the absolute that is Patagonia moved me like very few films about youth culture ever have.”

Following his iconic video for Måneskin’s I Wanna Be Your Slave and half a dozen captivating short films (Playtime and Amateur in particular), the stakes were through the roof with Simone Bozzelli’s highly anticipated debut feature Patagonia, all the more so since he has decided to tackle toxic masculinity, sexual power dynamics, recreational drugs galore and (severe) psychological imbalances in a young queer Abruzzese environment… all at once! The Italian director rose to the challenge hands down. Patagonia is one of the most original and engaging Italian debuts I have seen in a long time, and Bozzelli is a name we can surely count on in the years to come.

How much of Patagonia is purely autobiographical and how much is a romantic fictionalization remains (and should remain) a question mark, but there’s little doubt this is a visceral, vital, and highly personal story the Abruzzese filmmaker wanted to share with us, and its urgency is so palpable that we almost wonder if he ever had any other artistic choice than to tell this specific story. Patagonia does indeed feel like an exorcism of sorts, but the absolute beauty of it lies in its uncompromising honesty and sincerity, its total absence of voyeurism (when the narrative could have gone wrong in so many different instances!), and in Bozzelli’s unflinching belief and love for his characters and his young and extraordinary actors.

Imagine the improbable encounter between Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Larry Clark’s Kids, and Kechiche’s highly sensualist, carnal cinema and you will get a glimpse of the queer version of the explosive volcano that is Patagonia. To say the film owes an immense debt to its young protagonists would be an understatement. Both Andrea Fuorto (Yuri) and Augusto Mario Russi (Agostino) give performances for the ages. Their toxic and romantic chemistry almost perspires through the screen from the very second they meet. They have gifted Bozzelli, and therefore the audience too, with absolute tour-de-force impersonations in which the rage of youth, the erotic and sexual tensions, and the hunger for new horizons exude naturally, almost organically, from their oft-sweaty bodies every other second.

The young and very tormented Yuri lives an uneventful, almost dead life in an Abruzzese gynaeceum environment where men seem to have almost disappeared from the planet, or at least from this sleepy village where the women of his family are over-protecting him from an unspecified psychological disorder. Suddenly he encounters the charismatic Agostino, a nomadic children’s entertainer, with his eerie gaze and devastatingly sensual smile. Yuri leaves everything and everyone all at once and starts a nomadic life of love, drugs, flesh and fire, and nights and days filled with dancing to exhaustion with his toxic partner in crime. Agostino’s pansexuality blurs all the codes and Yuri abandons himself to the complex and contradictory desires of the former. Bozzelli never judges anyone though, and the telluric force of his direction embraces the complexities of sexual desire with immense tact and aplomb. He also loves contemplating nature, with which he has a strong visual bond, and animals, who play an important part in his narrative, with Yuri and Morgan (one of Agostino’s rave party friends in the beginning) developing strong bonds through a transitional relationship with a mouse. Bozzelli’s empathy for animals is crystal clear and endearing, I must confess.

This contemporary queer revisitation of Bonnie and Clyde embarks on a chimerical road trip to the Patagonia that gives the film its title, referencing both a utopian geographical El Dorado that our duo of tormented lovers may never reach and also a song Agostino used to listen to with his father when he was younger.

I had my personal share of hedonist free/rave parties in my twenties, and even though this took place in another (musical) era, the ‘there is no tomorrow’ vibe seems to never age. The almost cinéma vérité-like poetic acuity with which Bozzelli shot all the electro/rave scenes from dusk till dawn till dusk again feels extremely organic and lived-in. It never feels like a caricature, unlike many other films that try to portray youth culture but end up doing so with clichés and clumsiness. I will stay away from spoilers and abstain from detailing the narrative roller coaster that is Yuri and Agostino’s relationship, but this Rimbaldian ode to love and the absolute that is Patagonia moved me like very few films about youth culture ever have. Kudos must be given as well to Leonardo Mirabilia for his exceptional lensing and sensual cinematography, and to Christian Marsiglia for his electric but never chaotic editing.