Baroness Eloise von Wagner, the temptress.

Baroness Eloise von Wagner, the temptress.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Runs Fri., April 18–Wed., April

The Galapagos Affair: 
Satan Came to Eden

Runs Fri., April 18–Wed., April 23 at 
SIFF FIlm Center. Not rated. 120 minutes.

This is not an easy movie to synopsize, so bear with me. A bunch of crazy Germans emigrated to the Galapagos Islands in the early ’30s, some to escape Hitler, some out of crackpot notions of Nietzsche-Rousseau-Robinson Crusoe. In this documentary reconstruction of events leading to several deaths, we have celebrity voices (Cate Blanchett, Connie Nielsen, Diane Kruger, etc.) reading from letters and diaries; archival footage; maps; stills; and interviews with Ecuadorians two or three generations removed from the matter in question. This is partly a forensic project, but don’t expect a final verdict from filmmakers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine (Something Ventured, Ballets Russes). Theirs is yet another example of how manmade paradises inevitably fail because of the contentious men and women who live there.

Dr. Friedrich Ritter, an obsessive follower of Nietzsche, drags his lover Dore Strauch to an uninhabited island in the Galapagos. Living a near–Stone Age existence, they’re celebrated by visiting reporters as a new Adam and Eve. (They also left their spouses, adding scandal to the headlines.) Friedrich, the kind of cranky megalomaniac you’d expect to meet in a Werner Herzog movie, is dismayed by the publicity, which draws other settlers to Floreana. One, who imperiously calls herself a baroness and brings two younger male lovers, is a particular affront to Friedrich. Tensions among the handful of settlers lead to quarrels and feuds—and eventually the demise of three.

Geller and Goldfine are not immune to speculation here; and today, the heirs to Floreana’s settlers have spun such theorizing into a cottage industry. (Come for the tortoises, stay for the murder mystery!) Given the willful eccentrics and sexual intrigue involved, plus the parade of Eden-curious visitors, a fictionalized account would’ve provided more dramatic juice here. Of course Dr. Ritter would’ve disapproved of such liberties, but the Baroness always wanted to be in the movies.

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