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Nostalgia for the Light
Time Out New York Project: Issue #804, March 17-23, 2011
Dir. Patricio Guzmán. 2010. N/R. 90mins. In Spanish, with subtitles. Documentary.
As Patricio Guzmán’s eloquent documentary attests, Chile’s Atacama Desert is a place of both inspiring wonders and unspeakable horrors. At 10,000 feet above sea level, it’s the perfect vantage point for astronomers to explore the marvels of the universe. But look away from the skies, and a harsh reality becomes apparent. Only a short distance from the gleaming white observatories are chilling reminders of Chile’s troubled past: remnants of a 19th-century slave mining camp, bone fragments from victims of Augusto Pinochet’s murderous regime and groups of people still working to excavate the remains.
Nostalgia for the Light weaves these two seemingly disparate subjects into a moving meditation on history, knowledge and mortality. Stunning images of the arid landscapes and the star-filled heavens are married to illuminating interviews with astrophysicists and survivors from the Pinochet years. One scientist speaks of how astronomers only ever deal with the past, since starlight often takes thousands of years to reach Earth. Guzmán parallels this perspective via scenes of elderly women who have combed the desert for nearly three decades, looking for mass graves. All of these subjects are confronting the past in their own way, seeking answers and resolution where there may be none. Their brave ability to continue searching — to attempt to uncover both the sins and the origins of mankind — is immensely humbling.—Keith Uhlich
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