They went in search of paradise: German physician Friedrich Ritter and his amour, Dore Strauch, left bustling Berlin in 1929 to carve out a more measured existence on Floreana in the remote Galapagos Islands. Their story is only part of Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s compelling if shallow documentary, which shuffles between the early 1930s and the present day as it tells a wide-ranging tale of family, mystery, free love and foul play.
Ritter and Strauch hoped to be Floreana’s only inhabitants, but after the press publicized their escape, more people arrived. First there was the Wittmer family, who wanted to live a Swiss Family Robinson existence. Then, more disruptively, came the self-styled Baroness Eloise von Wagner Bosquet, who—along with her two male lovers—planned to start a luxury hotel.
It’s a truly colorful cast of real-life characters, and the film brings them to life via a strong roster of voices—Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger and Thomas Kretschmann, among others—who read letters and diary entries that often present conflicting versions of events that may have included poisoning and murder. The filmmakers also make use of a wealth of archival footage taken on the island at the time (the Baroness’s hot-blooded amateur pirate film is a particular highlight), and interview several descendants of Ritter and the Wittmers who have their own theories about what happened in the past.
All of this is fascinating in the moment, yet the doc never yokes all these threads into anything particularly deep or illuminating. The Galapagos Affair is less social commentary, more gossip.
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