NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (Patricio Guzmán, 2010)

“We cannot forget our dead.”

Although it doesn’t quite merit the glowing reviews it has attracted, writer-director Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia de la luz is an impressive, disturbing and deeply moving documentary. It is an attempt to merge cosmos and, as Gen. Augusto Pinochet impressed it, Chilean history so that an infinite wash of stars soothes souls battered by horror and bloodshed. In Spanish, it is from Chile, France and Germany.
     Two miles above sea level, the setting is the bone-dry Atacama Desert, Chile’s “vast open book of memory.” The absence of moisture has kept pre-Columbian art intact; astronomers—galactic archaeologists—gather to use the observatory telescope to scan the gorgeous heavens, searching back for humanity’s origins, with calcium linking human bone to the stars; Pinochet’s concentration camp stands in Chacabuco, the last stop before supporters of democracy and Salvador Allende—dissidents and other patriots—joined the ranks of “the disappeared”; mothers and other relations search bloodstained sand and stone for any identifiable bit of lost loved ones.
     Among those interviewed is a young scientist, an enthusiastic, empathetic astronomer who has looked around, taking in the human scene, in addition to looking up; he provides a metaphorical framework for fathoming the reach—some might say, the overreach—of Guzmán’s philosophical intent by explaining how light travels and the speed of light, and how sound travels and the delayed reception of someone’s voice. “There is no present,” he tells us. “The only present that exists is in my mind.” For Guzmán, the Atacama is a “gateway to the past” (including Chile’s “marginalization” of its Indian populations), which memory projects into the future.
     Past, future: 30,000 were tortured in Chile, but “it is estimated that another 30,000 did not come forward.”
     Best documentary, European Film Awards.

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