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Nostalgia for the Light

Nostalgia for the Light

Released 13 July 2012
Director Patricio Guzmán

Gaspar Galaz, Lautaro Nunez, Luis Henriquez, Miguel, Victor Gonzalez, Vicky Saaveda, Violeta Berrios, George Preston, Valentina Rodriguez
Writer(s) Patricio Guzmán

Jutta Krug, Meike Martens, Renate Sachse

France, Germany, Chile, Spain, United States
Running Time 90 minutes
Genre Documentary, drama
Rating TBC

Beautiful but morose.

The clicking levers and whirring cogs of a giant German telescope seems like an esoteric steampunk astrolabe amidst momentary shots of star systems at once making magical Patricio Guzman's documentary that marries his childhood love of astronomy to the tale of Chile's Atacama desert. The vast Atacama desert nestled in the foothills of the Cordillera in Santiago, itself seems like the landscape of a far off world, having the consummate conditions of cloudless humidity to make possible the uninterrupted observation of stars in a far greater capacity than anywhere else on earth.

A poetic voiceover helps the science of star-gazing become philosophy, 'In the glow of the night, the stars observe us', we're told. Nebulous whorls of stars, far off suns and solar systems overhead in Nostalgia de la Luz implacably behold the aged Atacama desert; its prehistoric petrified relics, pre Columbian carvings and Indian fortresses. It's a quasi-religious experience calling to question our very origins. But the stars look down on a darker history than this for Chile's arid desert, and dotted between the modern observatories that dart up brightly in the dun, sandy landscape we see women searching.

The oppressive Pinochet regime ran for seventeen years from 1973, often eliminating grassroots, political oppositions or any other dissenting voice violently. Voiceover mentions thirty thousand have admitted torture under Pinochet's reign with an estimated thirty thousand further unwilling to admit it. 'The Disappeared' those people deemed too dangerous for the dictatorship were often disposed of unceremoniously in Atacama and images of astounding astronomy are interspersed over sites of these dissenters’ mass graves. The women of Nostalgia de la Luz still search for their undiscovered loved ones.

We're told the light of the moon takes us around one minute to see while the sun takes us around eight. So even with augmented telescopes astronomers are often observing the past, the present perceptually becoming the sum total of successive pasts. Nowhere does it seem more true than in the Atacama desert where history stacks itself like sediment. Yet for all Nostalgia de la Luz's attempt at a unifying metaphor, its binaries often admittedly fall flat, while these women like astronomers search for meaning in the past, one astronomer tells us it can't be compared, the difference being that at night astronomers sleep soundly.

Nostalgia de la Luz
is an ambitious and informative documentary, as beautiful as it is stark and morose.

- Cormac O’Brien