Patricio Guzman, Chile's poet-documentarian, remains haunted and riveted by what happened in his country during the revolutionary years of Salvador Allende's administration and the US-backed fascist coup which ended it.The coup d'etat was depicted in the great political film,The Battle of Chile.and the long period of amnesiac forgetting takes us up to Nostalgia for the Light,his present filmic essay taking in archaeology,astronomy and recovery of the disappeared.Art must confront its Guernicas and 9/11s.We get the scene of dust particles swirling in a sunbeam, a Lucretion settling of the thoughts about our being and origins.He takes us back to the Chile of his youth,where he "loved science fiction stories, lunar eclipses and watching the sun through a piece of smoky glass".We get tableaux of nostalgia,"Only the present moment existed".A dissolve follows setting out the cosmological and historical parameters,in the specific setting of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, visible from space,the driest place on Earth.This humanist document unites idealist skysearchers and realist earthsearchers.
The translucent sky allows astronomers to see the boundaries of the universe,light from the past takes millions of years to reach us.The desert is also home to pre-Columbian shepherd's bones and rock carvings, and the place where Pinochet buried bodies in mass graves,following imprisonment,torture and murder.The desert is a palimpsest of the past,ossuary and observatory.Elderly women search among its stones for murdered loved ones.Balancing philosophical reflections on human memory and the matter of the stars,the calcium of our bones comes from the stars." The present doesn't exist",according to Gaspar Galaz,a young astronomer,'Now' is a mental construct.We get an extraordinaryshot of a constellation.Guzman uses poetic intuition to connect his subjects,associations of thought.Although at times you feel he's edging one subject in via another,he claims to be obsessed by the 100 years life of the Chilean republic,the miners in the Atacama(19C),the disappearance of the indigenous Indians.Lautaro Nunes archaeologist, reveals the depth of the amnesia.The images are beautiful.The telescopes with their fabulous visibility contrast to the invisibility of the lost ones,beneath ones feet.
Guzman gathers testimonies from Luis Henriquez,survivor of the Chacabuco concentration camp-mines adapted by the military+barb wire-relates how the inmates felt totally free due to astonomy lessons they took.Another veteran Miguel memorises the exact dimensions of each camp and makes architectural scale drawings of them when in exile, so their existence could not be denied.The heart of the film shows women from the town of Calama,Vicky Saavedra, finding her brother's teeth,skull bit and footbone in a sock,or Violetta Berrios,tenaciously searching for her husband,or the unearthing of shards of bone and mummified body parts by the diminishing band of bereaved relatives of the `disappeared'.Only memory Guzman says allows us to live in the `fragile present moment'.Valentina Rodriguez, unites the two halves of the film,a mother of two in her 30s who works at the astronomical organisation.Brought up by her grandparents when her parents were `disappeared',they taught her to observe the stars.Astronomy has helped give another dimension to her pain." We are all part of a current of energy,of recyclable matter...nothing comes to an end."Nostalgia is counter-atomist,bringing together the worlds of science and human affairs and Guzman reactivates the `gravitational force of memory'against the atrocities.Truly moving transcendence of materialism.