'Nostalgia for the Light': Looking at the cosmos — and Chile's haunted past
A movie review of "Nostalgia for the Light," Patricio Guzmán's latest documentary that elegantly examines astronomy, architecture and archaeology through the political prism of Chile's tragic history under the 1970s dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Nostalgia for the Light,' a documentary directed, written and narrated by Patricio Guzmán. 90 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. In Spanish with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
With his latest documentary, "Nostalgia for the Light," veteran Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán examines the disciplines astronomy, archaeology and architecture to form a resonant reflection upon the preservation of memory.
It's easy enough to see how those sciences provide "gateways to the past," as one expert observes early in the film. But it's the fourth element in Guzmán's visually poetic strategy — the horrible legacy of 1970s' Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet — that gives his film such emotional and intellectual resonance.
The horrors of dictatorship have been the focus of Guzmán's work for 40 years (most notably in his epic '70s documentary trilogy "The Battle of Chile"), and "Nostalgia for the Light" is haunted by the thousands of political prisoners executed under Pinochet's regime.
The otherworldly landscape that accommodates Guzmán's eons-spanning reflection is the Atacama Desert, 10,000 feet above sea level in northern Chile. It's literally high and dry, so lacking in humidity that its crystal-clear skies are a magnet for amateur and professional astronomers.
Guzmán's "nostalgia" refers to his own passion for stargazing, but it also encompasses a darker, more painful urge to reclaim Chile's tragedies under Pinochet, who turned an abandoned mining facility into a remote prison camp in the Atacama wastelands.
As the memory-haunted widows of "disappeared" dissidents scan the desert floor for the bones of their executed husbands and relatives, Guzmán eloquently weaves their obsessive quest into the film's universal context.
"I am convinced that memory has gravitational force," says Guzmán in conclusion. "Nostalgia" states his case so beautifully that even skeptical physicists will be thoroughly convinced.
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com