Just by reading the title of the film, you get the sense that mammoth ideas covering a sprawling lay of topics will be explored, but as the credits roll you will know for sure that Nostalgia For The Light is not only an apt title, but quite perfect for this wistful essay of grandeur. Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán has spent a good portion of his life making award winning films about his country who’s memory still broods on the 17 year long military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the inhuman acts his regime committed against the Chilean people in the wake of the military coup of 1973. With his newest, he turns his gaze to the cosmos and the Atacama Desert, where astronomers from around the globe flock to witness the celestial expanse with unmatched clarity. While they search the stars for keys to unlocking the history of our universe, women nearby sift the desert sands for their disappeared loved ones’ remains, hoping they can someday put their nightmarish memories of Pinochet’s reign behind them.
With heartfelt and well spoken narration, Guzmán pitches the idea of Chile’s strange paradox – within its boarders, archaeologists of different forms are able to unearth an immense amount of knowledge about the far away times and places, while its recent history is actively being hidden away and buried. He remembers his peaceful childhood, free of governmental tribulation, and his own interest in the interstellar map above his head. Moving effortlessly between subjects, the camera shifts from personal artifacts to the humming mechanisms of one of Chile’s many observatories to the overlooked ancient artwork found on various rock faces in the vast desert graveyard. Though his focus seems to meander through seemingly disconnected subjects, the underlying connective tissue here is our reliance on memory and our need to understand history in order to progress, not only on a personal level, but on a societal level. Time seems to heal all wounds, but if no one remembers our past, what is there to learn from?
There is a distinct confidence in the relaxed and reflective pacing of the film. Guzmán is a man who obviously has a deep love for his country, but still loses sleep over the horrific events that left many of his fellow countrymen dead or worse. The heady topics he meditates on are not discussed in alienating lingo. On the contrary, each is conveyed in very humanistic, inquisitive terms. He gives us something to think about, and give us the time to soak it in without slowing down the film. It truly is a miraculous feat. No other film this year has covered so much ground with seemingly so little effort. Nostalgia For The Light is a gorgeously contemplative masterpiece by a supreme filmmaker who’s questions leave us with a sense of wonder and our own new mysteries to ponder.
Icarus Films has put together a respectable package for the Blu-ray release of Nostalgia For The Light. Visually, the film, presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, is generally full of crisp detail and vivid color, except during a couple soft looking interviews where it seems Guzmán may have used a different, lower quality camera. Non-removable English subtitles are in place. As most documentaries, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t take center stage, but it reproduces the mechanic humming of the observatories, the whipping wind of the desert and conversations quite naturally without much use of the extraneous speakers. Rounding out the package are five “short films” that look to be pieced together from footage shot for the feature, but ultimately didn’t make the cut. These are all presented in SD, and have optional English subtitles.
Chile, A Galaxy of Problems
The first and longest of the shorts, running a little longer than a half hour, is a piece focusing in on a variety of Chile’s current social issues and why many of them relate to the country’s inability to acknowledge their still fairly recent tragedies. Guzmán even interviews Juan Emilio Cheyre, a former member of power within Pinochet’s army.
Oscar Saa, Technician of the Stars
Oscar Saa is one of many engineers operating telescopes in the Atacama Desert. Here he discusses a small portion of the incredibly intricate telescope that he works on day in and day out.
José Maza, Sky Traveler
A professor and astronomer, José Maza is asked about a variety of big topics like what exactly is dark energy or time. He answers with distinct intelligence, but is ultimately inconclusive.
María Teresa & The Brown Dwarf
María Teresa was the first to discover a “brown dwarf”, a star that never was big enough to catch fire. Her passion for astronomy is equaled only by two other mysteries, agates that wash ashore, and her ability to craft tapestry portraits.
Astronomers from my Neighborhood
Featured here is Guillermo Fernández, an amateur astrologist who built his own observatory out of spare parts. He explains much about his makeshift telescope.
Guzmán has crafted a magnificently poetic piece of cinema with deep roots and sprawling reach. His interviewees speak with authority and authenticity on a variety of vast subject matter along side Guzmán’s own meditative narration. It is a thing of reflective beauty that begs for remembrance, but not for itself, but for history itself.