Sayen is an action film that explores the Mapuche conflict in the south, but it fails to deliver a clear message. Set in the Araucanía region, the movie follows a young Mapuche woman who defends her grandmother’s land from a mining company. Director Alexander Witt and producer Fabula plan to make two more films centered around the same character.
What was marketed as an action movie take on the Mapuche conflict in the south fails to deliver on its premise. Although the film, “Sayen,” stands up to other Hollywood productions in technical aspects, it leaves viewers with a muddled message, forgettable characters, action movie clichés, and unresolved plot points to be answered in future productions.
Sayen tells the story of the titular character, a young Mapuche woman who decides to defend her ancestral land from a mining company that seeks to exploit its natural resources. Using her knowledge of the forest, the titular character fights back against Antonio Torres, the son of a Spanish mining magnate, and his henchmen, while unraveling a dark conspiracy between the government and private companies to destroy South American ecosystems for their resources.
Bringing Hollywood to the Araucanía
In 2021, the Chilean production company Fabula announced the creation of an action movie trilogy distributed by Amazon Studios and directed by the Chilean born cinematographer Alexander Witt, known for his work as unit director on big Hollywood productions like “Avengers: Infinity War” and “James Bond: No Time To Die.”
His work on the film does help elevate its action sequences to a level unseen in national productions, making it look like a big Hollywood production. The cinematography is clear and showcases the landscapes of the southern forests and the coziness of the Rukas, the Mapuche’s traditional houses, mostly through natural looking lighting. The editing also keeps the action sequences tight and easy to follow, in contrast to the frantic cutting style that plagues the genre.
The lighting also helps the ambiance, which is cold and damp. The movie takes place during winter, meaning a lot of onscreen rain and snow, which never feels artificial or forced. Instead, it comes across as another part of the forest that Sayen must protect.
The performances from most of the actors are believable and emotional, with a special mention to the main actress, Rallen Montenegro who was picked from an open casting and nails her role and performs in Spanish and Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche. The only exception to the acting are several of the minor characters who pop up throughout the movie – a bit jarring but not too distracting.
The film’s soundtrack is also impressive, sampling many Chilean urban artists, including Anita Tijoux, a Chilean-French rapper who is well known for her political activism and support of the Mapuche cause.
While the film excels in most of the technical aspects, the same cannot be said of the story, which fails to deliver an interesting plot.
Watch the trailer here:
The movie drops us in the middle of the action, with Sayen running through the forest while being shot at by Torres, played by Arón Piper, and his crew. She ends up cornered on a cliff overlooking a river, Torres tells her to give up, to which she responds by jumping into the river, the film then flashes back to three days earlier.
After studying in Santiago, Sayen arrives back to her grandmother’s ruka, which stands in the middle of the land that they are sworn to protect. Through conversations with her grandmother, played by Teresa Ramos, and their family friends, we learn Sayen’s backstory: her father was detained for terrorism, which leads to her being trained to be a warrior along with the rest of the boys.
In the present, her friends discuss the best way to continue the fight against the Chilean government, with them poking fun at their friend José, played by Camilo Arancibia, a journalist for a local newspaper who believes in going through the proper means.
The next day, Sayen spots a truck near her grandmother’s house. Torres and his crew have arrived. He wishes to buy her grandmother’s land for conservation efforts. After her refusal, Sayen follows them to their camp and discovers that Torres is the son of a Spanish mining magnate who wants to mine the cobalt depositories that were found nearby.
Once she is spotted, Sayen runs back to her grandmother who confronts Torres, only for her to be shot in the head, forcing Sayen to hide in the forest while Torres and his crew hunt her down, taking us back to the beginning of the film.
The rest of the movie consists of action sequences littered with clichés. As but one example, the antagonist appears to be a skilled marksman when shooting (and killing) less important characters, but always seems to miss when aiming at the protagonist.
The film also barely scratches the surface of the Mapuche conflict in the south, preferring to tell a clear black and white story over a serious in-depth exploration of the history and morality of the fight itself.
Sayen is portrayed to be reacting to violence perpetrated towards her by a private company that has infiltrated Chile’s national police and justice system, leaving her with only one option, to fight back; however, her own actions end up burying her even deeper, with her being directly responsible for the death of the only two members of Torres’s group who were trying to help her. When she meets up with José, he insists on going through proper channels, even as he himself is aiding her in fighting the police.
In the end the message of the movie gets lost. It makes a case for following the law, even as it seemingly argues that things cannot be done that way.
Overall,” Sayen” fails to meet the expectations set when it was announced. Its deeper message is not clear, but it does manage to entertain for 94 minutes with solid action pieces.
We already know that Sayen’s story will continue, with Fabula and Amazon Prime announcing two more sequels that will focus on different ecosystems of South America. Hopefully, they work out the kinks that plagued this film.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.