Nostalgia for the Light

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am


Nostalgia for the Light
Director: Patricio Guzman

For four decades, Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman has been reminding the world about dictator Augusto Pinochet's repressive reign in the 1970s and '80s.

Starting with the seminal documentary Battle of Chile - a three-part series which shows how Pinochet came to power after deposing the socialist (and democratically elected) president Salvador Allende in a bloody coup d'etat - Guzman has revisited the topic from a variety of angles. Alongside more straightforward historical treatises (such as Battle and The Pinochet Case) have been films which tackle that part of modern Chilean history through metaphors (The Southern Cross and Robinson Crusoe Island).

His latest, Nostalgia for the Light, belongs in the latter category. In fact, this 2010 piece ranks as Guzman's most poetic and reflective, as illustrated by a sequence of black-and-white images seen at the start of the film while Guzman talks about his childhood fascination with watching the stars.

The film then segues into a series of stark pictures of the rough, pock-marked surface of the moon and other planets as the film introduces a group of astronomers working in their observation towers in the vast Atacama Desert in the northern part of Chile.

But as the film develops, those hauntingly eerie images take on another meaning, as recollections about the torture and killings of dissidents come with pictures of shattered skulls and broken bones, which resemble the earlier moonscapes. For the Atacama Desert is also where a number of women spend their days searching for the remains of family members who were killed by Pinochet's henchmen.

The sky-gazers and the earth-diggers have a common mission of trying to understand the present by reconciling it with the past. Guzman slowly and subtly points to the necessity for remembrance of a dark chapter in Chile's modern history.

One astronomer reflects on how their work has always suffered a time lag (they notice changes in far-away galaxies long after the seismic shifts occur in space).

The astronomers' eventual meeting with the women who have been sifting soil in the same region without their knowledge speaks powerfully about how Chile and the rest of the world should look back in order to move forward - however far removed the Pinochet days seem from the present.

Extras: six short films about Chilean history and astronomy.