Nostalgia For The Light (Patricio Guzmán)

Patricio Guzmán’s work has concentrated almost exclusively on the political convulsions that seized his country in the 1970’s. His landmark, three-part documentary ‘The Battle For Chile‘ reported from within the turmoil of Salvador Allende’s democratic revolution and the subsequent military-led coup d’etat. Then came exile as the new regime led by General Pinochet brutally suppressed the opposition. The trauma of this period may have passed, but the aftereffects persist. Some would prefer to forget, but this cannot be allowed to happen until everything has been brought into the light.

With ‘Nostalgia For The Light‘, Guzmán has found a surprising, and discreet, angle of approach. Beginning with personal memoir, in a gentle, reassuring voice-over, he reflects on a childhood fascination with astronomy. A period of innocence for both the young Guzmán and for his country, an eternal present, before the Allende revolution provoked the terrible backlash.

He leads us to the Atacama desert. The driest place on earth, whose mysterious landscape, rich in nitrates, but devoid of plant or animal life, most closely resembles Mars. Here we find astronomers and archeologists attracted by the clear, rarified atmosphere. We also find bands of women sifting through the sand, searching for the bodies of their loved ones who ‘disappeared’ during the Pinochet regime. All of them, in some sense, looking into the past.

Thus Guzmán extrapolates a profoundly visual link between the light from the stars, ancient drawings in the rocks, and the remains of political prisoners executed and dumped in the dry earth. Majestic shots of the celestial night sky, enhanced by original music (Miranda y Tobar), counter-balanced with bone fragments in the palm of an old woman’s hand. An exquisite poem weighted by the gravity of the moral imperative:

We must remember, we will not forget.

Adventures in distribution, part 3:

Nostalgia For The Light‘ premiered in Cannes last year. It won best documentary at the European Film Awards last year. It was released in the US back in March and was followed by a region-1 DVD/Blu-ray release. But no sign of it in London or the UK. How long do we have to wait?


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