CAPSULE: False identities, sex, feuds, and mysterious deaths are part of the history of the Galápagos Islands that tour guides do not tell visitors. This is the true story of three groups of settlers on the Galápagos island of Floreana. The account is told in detail by the writing and directing team of Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine. It is a long story--with the film running to just over two hours--but this unique documentary holds the viewer and compels him. This film does not answer all the questions it raises, and in fact many of its questions have never been answered. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
The Galápagos Islands are among the most beautiful places in the world. They are also known as the Encantadas, or "the Enchanted Isles." The islands are part of Ecuador and are a string of volcanic isles whose natural history was studied by a young Charles Darwin leading him to pose his theory of evolution. These days the islands are part of a national park attempting to keep the wildlife as close as possible to the state it was in Darwin's day. But natural beauty does not by itself a paradise make. The story of the Galápagos Murders--if indeed they were murders--involves lies, sex, fights, fraud, false identity, and mysterious deaths. The story involves mostly Germans who left their country when Hitler was coming to power and came to settle on Floreana in the island chain.
First there was Friedrich Ritter a doctor and mystical philosopher who attracted a student, follower, lover, and admirer--and a sufferer of Multiple Sclerosis--Dore Strauch. The two decided to leave the social pressures of Germany and, following Friedrich's teachings, went to live a simple Crusoe-like existence in the nature and the solitude of Floreana. That was in July of 1929. Friedrich, not realizing the future problems he was causing himself, wrote back to Germany with accounts of his new idyllic life. In 1932 there was another settlement. Heinz and Margaret Wittmer who had read Friedrich's accounts of the simple island life came bringing their son Harry and another child on the way. Friedrich was unhappy that his little island had to be shared, particularly when the Wittmer's assumed that Friedrich would offer free medical services to the new family. But this was just the very beginning of the conflicts to follow. That same year the "Baroness" von Wagner arrived with two male companions and announced that the island was hers and she was going to build a hotel. The Baroness respected nobody else's property and enjoyed soaking her feet in the Ritters' drinking water. And this too was in the early days of the war that was to come--a war covered in detail by writer/directors Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine. The story is complex with alliances and disagreements among the three settlements. Hatreds culminated in mysterious disappearances and vastly contradictory accounts of what had happened.
The script, besides being a meticulous account of the feud on the beautiful island, is a logic problem with no solution given. Geller and Goldfine present a straightforward account of what was said of the affair by the various participants. It is surprising that there was sufficient diary material a fodder to make so complete an account of the small wars that occurred. Also there was apparently a great volume of home movie footage. The story is mostly told either by interviews or voice actors speaking the words from the journals under home movies. Leading the voice actors is Cate Blanchett, voicing the words of Dore Strauch. In the meantime while we get the story, we also get a feel for the texture of life on the small island. Though it is not really discussed, there is some sadness at seeing the lamentable "development" of what had been an unspoiled island.
THE GALÁPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN is colorful, at times funny, and strangely hypnotic. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. The film will be available on DVD and Netflix on September 9, 2014.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2960450/combined
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/rt-galapagos-affair
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper