As the camera moves ever closer, the light delicately balanced in the left of the frame, the porous density of a skull becomes interchangeable with the pock-marked surface of a distant terrestial planet, or perhaps it is a star, or the moon? The beauty of Patricio Guzmán’s new film Nostalgia de la Luz, 2010, is in the gentle weave of the infinite and unfathomable world of extra-terrestial galaxies and the equally unfathomable search without end for the bodies and souls of the Chileans who were disappeared in the Pinochet regime. The image of the skull that becomes a planet, or perhaps it is a planet transforming into a skull towards the end of Nostalgia de la Luz is the most awesome moment in a film filled with breathtakingly beautiful images and remarkable expressions of the ongoing trauma of the witnesses to Pinochet’s violent dictatorship.
The slow turning of human bones into planets is the visual crescendo of a film that demonstrates with all credibility that we belong, hand in hand, with the universe from which we came. Scientists talk about the calcium in our bones, or rather, the bones of the disappeared, as one and the same with the calcium of the planets. We are all traced back to the infinity of the universe that births, houses and, in Guzmán’s film, to which we are ultimately returned. It is not only the view of the cosmos above that draws astronomers to Chile's Atacama Desert, but geologists bring their instruments and their eyes her to roam the oldest desert floors for fossils and mummies that tell of life so long ago that we cannot conceive of when. And in Nostalgia de la Luz, both are joined by women who come for the remains of their loved ones, the remains of the heinous crimes of the Pinochet regime. Their bodies have become petrified in the parched desert soil, and they are recognizeable after nearly forty years—one woman finds the foot of her brother, still in the shoe, and she takes it, in tact, for her memory. The remarkable climate and conditions of this unique geographical location bring these unlikely people together to explore the temporal expanse between infinity and the recent historical past. What lies between the two is a trauma that lingers in the Chilean present moment.
And as astronomers, archaeologists and architects of memory meet in Guzmán’s film, we begin to see the lyrical connections between the grave story of a young Chilean boy who was murdered by Pinochet and the breadth of a universe which has no beginning and end. The film doesn’t simply juxtapose these different people, with different motivations that all converge in the Atacama Desert. The film asks why. One philosophizing astronomer explains that there is no such thing as the present in the universe, and that we are always telling the story of the past, and that past is why the women are digging through the desert soil in search of their relatives. As they look for the traces that will explain and resolve the irresolutions of the past, the astonomers in the observatories above them will continue to look into the future.
|Miguel with his plans|
Another man, Miguel, survived the concentration camps and he shows us in detail how he survived, how the past survived and continues to survive in his present. In his memory he held the image of all the prisons in which he was incarcerated and, as soon as he was released, he created maps, plans of every prison that held him so that they are known to every Chilean. Like Miguel’s plans, every memory, every experience is given away to the enormity of the world that houses it, leaving a trace for those who might one day look for remnants of this as the past.
Guzmán’s images are exquisite, and when they move, they do so with a slow paced, meditative lyricism. He shows the observatories, and in their clean precision, they are alluring, their calibrated perfection almost seductive. The observatories are huge, again, unfathomable, shown in a landscape that is lonely and scattered with life that has been fossilized and forgotten. The human remains in the landscape are unknown, unpredictable where the instruments of observation represent all that is rational. The star dust that a young woman, Valentina, refers to as the essence of us all frequently covers the screen making it luminous, and again, the world behind it, unknowable. And yet, the star dust covers us all, and through it we are given access to the unimaginable trauma suffered and endured by the survivors in Nostalgia de la Luz. In one of the most moving testimonies, Valentina, now working in one of the observatories was the child of disappeared parents. She tells her story and that of how her grandparents who were given the choice between the parents and the child, showed the militia where the parents were hiding so they could keep the child. And they brought her up as their own – she describes herself as a faulty product, as someone for whom something is missing, not quite whole, always broken, because her parents were taken from her at such a young age. Her work is to ensure her own child is not a broken, faulty product.
|Valentina with her child|
There is something so finite about the disappeared, about the violence and insanity of the Pinochet regime that can never be understood. In Nostalgia de la Luz the concrete finitude of Pinochet’s acts is transformed into the infinite possibility of the sweeping reach of an astrological observatory eye, and yet again, into a film that espouses there is hope in coming together in a common plight for healing and freedom from a past that plagues the Chilean present.