Nostalgia for the Light

Year: 2010
Production Co: Atacama Productions
Director: Patricio Guzmán
Writer: Patricio Guzmán

This very clever documentary looks at one or two aspects of life in Chile and tells one of the largest stories in the history of the country as a result.

For the first half hour you think it's going to be a movie about astronomy that leans heavily on startling imagery like Powaqqatsi, Microcosmos or Samsara , and that's the reason I watched it. The filmmakers talk to scientists at a radioastronomy observatory in the middle of the awesome desolation of the Atacama Desert, ruminating on how astronomy is the science of looking into the distant past and what the findings mean for humanity.

But it morphs into something else. Just like the astronomers are looking for radio signals in the vast universe, there are scores of elderly women combing the rock and sand desert looking for the remains of relatives murdered and buried in the desert under the Pinochet regime.

It might seem a long bow to draw when you read about it on paper, but the way director Patricio Guzmán weaves the threads together is not only skilful, it makes the stories quite beautiful (despite the brutality one of them is talking about).

There's a rich soundscape with a lot of silence that makes the film something to appreciate on the same plane as the 'picture-only' movies mentioned above – the camera slowly pans across sandy plains that go on for miles until distant rocky mountains without even so much of a blade of grass in sight, it tracks metal spoons hung from the roof of an abandoned shack in close-up as they tinkle in the wind.

It's not just a story about Chile, astronomy and the aftermath of a dictatorship, it's a story about metaphor and connection, and with some gorgeous and haunting sights and sounds that are as important as the stories being told (and which augment them) it could only have been done in a movie.

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