‘The Galapagos Affair’: a murder mystery in paradise
A documentary about a colorful crew’s search for paradise in the Galapagos goes awry.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden,’ a documentary directed by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller. 120 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.
It’s the kind of story that you can’t make up. The documentary “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden” meticulously retells a long-ago murder mystery. In 1929, German philosopher Friedrich Ritter and his lover Dore Strauch made their way to Floreana, an uninhabited Galapagos island, in search of solitude and, perhaps, paradise. They were soon joined, however, by unexpected company: the Wittmer family, fleeing German politics and hoping to establish themselves as the island’s Swiss Family Robinson, and the colorful Austrian baroness Eloise von Wagner, who arrived with her two young German lovers and announced her intent to open a hotel, to be called Hacienda Paradiso. The international press made much of this strange mélange — but soon tragedy struck, and three people vanished. No one knows, to this day, what happened to them.
Documentarians Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (who made the excellent “Ballets Russes” nearly a decade ago) struck gold in finding this story — and in finding home-movie footage, long packed away, featuring all of the players. Using those shadowy moving pictures, as well as memoirs written by Strauch and Margret Wittmer and read by a cast of actors including Cate Blanchett and Diane Kruger, Goldfine and Gellar bring the story to life. Though the pace occasionally flags during its two-hour running time, “The Galapagos Affair” is a fascinating look at a place of great beauty and remoteness, and at the kind of people drawn to live there. We’ll likely never know what truly happened there in the early 1930s, with those people so eager and determined to create a new world — only that, in Strauch’s words, “life can make a poor end of fine and admirable beginnings.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org