|'Guzmán looks at astronomy, at the stars, but he is also fascinated by time and place, by memories, by the history of his country and the inability of many to confront it.'|
On the surface, Nostalgia For The Light is a documentary about the astronomers who use Chile's Atacama Desert as a base, owing to its clear, oft-undisturbed view of the night sky.
Very quickly though, Patricio Guzmán's film reveals itself as something more than that. This is, of course, a look at those on the Atacama plains, but it is less interested in who they are and what they are physically doing than the metaphors and subtexts that they bring to light through their actions. Guzmán looks at astronomy, at the stars, but he is also fascinated by time and place, by memories, by the history of his country and the inability of many to confront it. As one astronomer explains to him: 'everything happens in the past, there is no present'. Nostalgia For The Light recognises this as a crux and sets about de-constructing it.
By the time the film concludes, the director has found no answers, but nor does this seem his aim. Through his film he has confronted areas of Chilean history that many seem unwilling to, or even to accept as having once existed. The 'nostalgia' of the title has multiple applications but most significantly there is a clear inference that nostalgia is this hazy wave of positivity, which creates 'light' where actually there was little. The director himself, in dream-like voiceover, remembers an idyllic, quiet childhood, before revealing that it was also a time of coup d'etats and Pinochet's dictatorship.
Through this mixture of experts and focuses, Guzmán's film reveals itself as one of those that forces you to accept that we live in a beautiful world, capable of incredulously irritating violences. At the same time, because of its operatic focus on the cosmos, the idea that we are a transient, ultimately insignificant species, destined at some point to be a footnote of history also rings true (you don't see a human for the first ten minutes or so).
It's an ambitious film, which takes an approach with Documentary form that feels fresh, ambitious and beautiful. Its answers aren't clear but then neither are its questions. This is Documentary as musing, conversation, ambition and anthropology.