Saturday, March 5, 2011

Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la luz)

"Next to the stars in the sky, the troubles of Chile may seem insignificant. But if you laid them out on a table, they would be a galaxy."

"Nostalgia for the Light" made me think about astronomy in entirely different ways. It makes a parallel between the universe as a whole and the Atacama Desert, where much of a dark period in Chilean history took place and is preserved. By doing this, the film compares the history of humanity with the history of the individual (of those people missing relatives, and of director Patricio Guzman's own life and interests), and confronts massive, mind-blowing notions. It reminds one of films like "Waltz With Bashir" and "Shoah" in how it captures the human tendency to want both to look towards the future, to keep discovering, and also to throw away the past. As in those films, there are people who don't want to let go, who see how that would be even more catastrophic than enduring the catastrophe itself. "Nostalgia for the Light" stands like the bodies left in the Atacama as a way to hold onto history, and thus remains about as valuable as films can get.

The film is an ideological overload on first look, and close attention and repeated viewing is probably necessary. The entry point is the director, who was very into astronomy when he was young, when technological advancement was prided upon, before the political problems in Chile eroded these things. However, we learn this is not the only bad patch of Chilean history: the 19th century seems to be something that nobody wants to think about. This is so much the case that concentration camps were built atop the mines of that time, in an attempt to leave the period behind. Add to that the fact that those under Pinochet placed the corpses of people they murdered in the Atacama, leaving them both well-kept but at the same time infuriatingly decomposed. This has saddened the people who have looked and looked to find the remains of bodies that once housed people they once knew. To some, the shreds they find are cathartic, but to others, they only give to the desire to find something impossible to reach.

The film's overall craftsmanship is marvelous. The cinematography (contrasting the red, rough desert and the white, clean telescopes, as well as space, for further comparison) and the score are both resonant. I only criticize the director's decision to apply iMovie grade effects and (at times) conventional documentary techniques to the film, but, as a friend notes, neither hurts the film too much and both can be somewhat validated. "Nostalgia for the Light" consciously evokes a sliver of land and a country for most of its 90 minutes but at the same time, it opens out into the sky to survey our steps forward and our steps back, our history expanding and contracting again to one day leave us. "Nostalgia for the Light" makes sure that this won't happen in the present day. A


Mark Powell said...

Great review. Can't wait to see this.

S. M. Rana said...

Would love to see but seems hard to find.