With the recent economic climate resulting in the current cinematic release schedule becoming saturated with affordable, yet no-less poignant documentaries it comes as a refreshing change to see a film like Nostalgia For The Light (2011), Patricio Guzmán’s philosophical venture into his countries troubled history.
Guzmán’s film is shot in Chile’s Atacama Desert, where renowned astronomers from across the world congregate to peer deep into the cloudless night sky and ponder the cosmos. The desert’s unpolluted skies allow for these astrophysicists to search deeper than anywhere else on the planet, however the desert has a dark secret – it was also where General Augusto Pinochet unceremoniously discarded the bodies of thousands of Chileans. Indeed, whilst men of science gaze upwards towards the universe, a dedicated group of women scour the desert in search of the missing body parts of their lost loved ones.
Guzmán combines insightful interviews with his sumptuous photography of the heavens and the dry, arid landscape of this incongruous and distressing cemetery into a tightly woven and expansive tapestry that aims to delve into the metaphysical issues which surround how we deal with the past – looking onwards and upwards in order to understand what we’ve forgotten. Nostalgia For The Light intelligent, yet often drawn-out approach to filmmaking demands the audience’s full attention and commitment from start to finish.
Drawing parallels with how the objects we witness from space and everything we do is technically already history (from the micro seconds it takes a thought to process or a word to be heard by another) Guzmán’s documentary, intelligently uses these astrological conclusions to delve into his own passion – the violent and horrifying regime of General Pinochet tyrannical regime. It’s through his learnings that we discover some of the truly devastating events that occurred during this time – a history lesson that would no doubt fail to entice audiences to hear its message if told through a conventional methodology.
Allowing each shining star or particle of dust to become a reverberation of an ethereal memory, each flickering in the clear Atacama sky, with the traumas, and discourse which occurred in the desert undoubtedly burning brightly back in some far of realm, Guzmán’s transcendental rumination of Chile’s past is a bewitching and heart-rending film. A constant dance between history and science, choreographed by Guzmán’s astute eye for imagery, Nostalgia For The Light successfully combines these deeply philosophical and scientific ideas into a beguiling waltz where there’s no present moment – only the past.