Movie review: Separado!

Super Furry Animal traces his roots

Movie review: Separado!

6 / 10 One of the great perks to being the lead singer in a successful band (besides the obvious) is that you’re far more likely to see the fruition of your own personal vanity projects, as the attachment of a “name” is often more of a draw than the contents of the project itself.

Case in point is Gruff Rhys’s latest project, Separado!, a documentary which follows the Super Furry Animals' laid back front man on a journey of discovery across South America as he investigates the Welsh migration in the 19th century and the subsequent pockets of Welsh culture dotted with surprising potency across Patagonia’s villages.

Actually, it’s unfair to call this a vanity project, and equally unfair to suggest the subject matter is uninteresting. Rhys, well known for his winsome lyrics, soulful voice and psychedelic artistry, employs a similar, distinctly non-vain use of chilled out vibrancy and style as in his music videos and other side projects in this documentary, made with long-time SFA collaborator Dylan Goch.

It’s certainly fascinating stuff – yet another subsidiary in the never-ending flow of Evil British Empire stories, with the Welsh forced out by religious persecution, and landing in bedraggled droves in the harsh, unforgiving deserts in South America, living in caves and forming alliances with the Native Americans in a way that few, if any, colonisers have ever managed.

Rhys, naturally, searches out local musicians and plays with homemade instruments wherever he goes, completely comfortable playing to a room full of people as to one ambivalent horse. And while he’s not the most animated or amusing of narrators, his obvious passion for the subject that informs his family history drives the film forward in a way that one suspects a BBC stalwart might not manage. Plus, you wouldn’t get a BBC presenter dressing up in a red vinyl Mexican wrestling mask – gimmicky, but entertaining nonetheless.

At nearly 90 minutes, it’s about half an hour too long – when a subject is this niche, (he’s obsessed with the search for long lost relative, Gaucho pop star Rene Griffith, but the idea isn’t as infectious as he thinks) there’s only so many Welsh-Bollywood dance sequences, psychedelic visual aids and lilting musical interludes you can take before the mind starts to wander away from the admittedly fascinating notion of a displaced culture, struggling to keep a dying language alive, building a “Utopian Wales in the Amazon”.

Separado! is an enjoyable history lesson the way one would have wanted to learn history, but perhaps one best learnt when it finds its way, as it certainly will, to your living room, rather than the big screen.

Andrea Hubert

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