The arid climate of Chile’s Atacama Desert makes for perfect stargazing while it’s unchanging nature also keeps a perfectly preserved record of the past. In Patricio Guzmán’s haunting documentary—part philosophical discourse, part history lesson—the harsh Atacama landscape becomes a metaphor not only for his country’s troubled past but also for man’s quest to find meaning in the Grand Scheme of things. Astronomers gaze placidly through their huge telescopes searching for the origins of time and space among the stars; archaeologists study thousand-year old petroglyphs nearby, the only clues left behind by a vanished race; and a small cadre of determined grandmothers sift through the sand in search of bones and mummified remains belonging to their loved ones, part of a generation of “Disappeared” who were tortured, murdered, and disposed of during Pinochet’s reign of terror. Both the country and the individual are shaped by what they strive to remember or struggle to forget, uncover or cover up, prompting one astronomer to assert that memory has a gravitational force which constantly attracts us—those with a memory are able to live in the “fragile present” while those who have none don’t live anywhere. Mass graves and bullet-riddled skulls are juxtaposed with scenes of spiral galaxies and multi-coloured nebulae while Guzmán’s soft voice waxes poetic off camera assuring us that whether scrabbling in the dirt or peering beyond the Solar System, understanding where we’ve come from is essential to understanding who we are and where we’re going. We are indeed made of star stuff and in this lyrical daydream of a film that single truth reassures even as its implications stagger the mind.
I had expected "Nostalgia for the Light" to be a documentary about astronomy in the Atacama Desert in Chile. For a long (beautiful!) introduction the movie lived up to this (assumed) promise. Then a shift in subject occurred – suddenly this quiet poem of moving images turns into an insistent portrait of women searching for the missing bodies of their relatives who were abducted, tortured and killed by the military junta. The movie is brilliantly filmed. The whole beginning sequence unfolds its entire power of awe and serenity watched on a large screen. It wraps the viewer in security and peace, before the main message sharply cuts through: Don’t forget! Guzman interviews an astronomer who explains the continuous development of stronger telescopes which enables humanity to gather ever more precise data about the universe searching for knowledge about the past. He also interviews a survivor of a concentration camp, an architect who is able to meticulously remember the lay-out of all the buildings he was brought to, thereby making the environment of this crime against humanity tactile. In parallel sequences, frail women in the last third of their lives walk the desert, their posture ducked, eyes firmly on the ground, looking for the tiniest pieces of bones. These bones may be all that is left of their siblings and children whose bodies had been thrown out of helicopters to get rid of them.
This documentary is not only about sense-making of traumatic events of scale. "Nostalgia for the Light" stresses the meaning of yesterday’s events for the presence and future. Today’s young generation has a voice in this movie. They are survivors, whose parents were killed when they were children, they live their lives despite of the early loss. They are scientists whose research is building future’s knowledge. It is their decision how to convey the past to the next generation. One wonders: What has society learned? How does the past shape the future?
I don't think you can enjoy this documentary unless you're interested in astronomy, Latin American history and politics. Each one plays an equal part in this doc.
I think trying to compare the astronomers' quest to discover all there is to know about space and the relatives' search for the remains of loved ones murdered by the Pinochet regime didn't work. There simply is no comparison.
Chilean Patricio Guzman's documentary about astronomers in Chile's Atacama Desert, Nostalgia for the Light, led me to his other documentaries: Salvador Allende, A Film and The Pinochet Case. I recommend all 3.
This documentary tells two stories - one of an ongoing search into the outer space and the other for remains of loved ones in the same desert which houses the world's largest telescopes. The two stories appear to go in parallel, but, as we see in the film, they are connected in some ways as well. It is definitely one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time. It satifies you on two fronts - the quest for knowledge on the ultimate frontier, and the quest for answers to both the good and the bad sides of humanity.
Solemn documentary contrasting the Chilean political prisoners and their families with the astronomers and archaeologists who now inhabit the area where they were kept prisoner.
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