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Categories: Movie Reviews

Patricio Guzmán’s follow-up to “Nostalgia for the Light” is profound and awe-inspiring.

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Patricio Guzmán is fast becoming one of the quintessential directors of Latin American cinema. His documentaries are highly poetic and captivating explorations of his native Chile. History, science and politics are delicately woven into mystical explorations of Chile’s past and present whilst modern day Chilean society’s apparent inability or unwillingness to properly come to terms with the former is directly addressed.

The Pearl Button is his latest offering and is a follow-up film to 2010’s mesmerizing Nostalgia for The Light which focussed on Chile’s Atacama Desert, a vast and arid wilderness covering nearly a third of the country’s landmass where extremely dry air and lack of both cloud cover and pollution make it one of the world’s prime locations for astrological observation.

Nostalgia for The Light fused together stunning images of the solar system captured from state-of-the-art telescopes built in the Atacama with interviews from the scientists and astronomers tasked with interpreting the vast galactic wasteland before them. But the Atacama Desert is not only a platform from which scientists attempt to unravel the mysteries of the solar system but also a mass graveyard; buried in this barren wilderness are the political opponents of dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile for fifteen years after violently overthrowing a democratically-elected left-wing government with the help of the United States in the 1970s. Nostalgia for the Light explored the reality of this great injustice and the plight of desperate relatives that search the desert fruitlessly for the remains of their murdered loved ones.

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The sadly ironic relationship between the relatives of Pinochet’s victims, who see the desert as holding vital clues to the past, and the astronomers who see it as a platform for gazing into the future, was explored by Guzmán with such delicacy and sophistication in Nostalgia for the Light that any follow-up has an incredibly difficult act to follow.

The Pearl Button takes us on a similar journey but shifts its gaze from the earthly to the aquatic. Water is a consistent theme throughout the film. It is worshipped by Chile’s five tribes of native people’s that, as Guzmán informs us, “lived in harmony with the cosmos” until the arrival of plundering settlers rendered their primitive existence incompatible with the onset of modernity, leading to the virtual extinction of their people’s language and culture.

Whilst Nostalgia for The Light explored the mysteries and horrors of Chile’s desert, the Pacific Ocean, which is presented as Chile’s “other border” in The Pearl Button, is similarly portrayed as having deeply mysterious and mythical qualities distinctly related to Chile’s troubled past. The film provides a unique historical narrative of the native peoples that roamed Chile’s vast southern archipelago before the arrival of the settlers in the 18th century. It convincingly suggests the subsequent persecution they faced is distinctly related to the horrors inflicted upon the opponents of the Pinochet regime nearly two centuries later.

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The Chilean authorities, for instance, seem very reluctant to properly acknowledge that both events even took place, preventing, as Guzmán suggests, Chileans from addressing their own history and perhaps learning lessons from the past. Just as Nostalgia for the Light contrasted the desperation of the searching relatives with the quiet optimism and scientific curiosity of the astronomers, The Pearl Button paints a similarly conflicted relationship between the few remaining members of the native tribes and the modern day Chilean state.

One of Guzmán’s trademarks is his hypnotic and soothing narration which perfectly complements the often mesmerizing and epic shots of Chile’s rugged landscape. The Pearl Button is littered with profound and quite awe-inspiring cinematography. When the film is eventually released on DVD, it will be possible to pause the film at several specific points and marvel at the beauty of what is quite possibly the nearest we will come to cinematic poetry.

Those who enjoyed Nostalgia for the Light will definitely value this incredible follow-up. Such is the accessibility of The Pearl Button that viewing its predecessor is not essential in order to appreciate it, but those who enjoy this latest offering having not seen Nostalgia would do well to seek it out. Guzmán’s films are incredibly powerful and memorable experiences that act not only as mesmerizing visual collages but also as insightful and engaging historical and political commentaries. His latest offering is no exception.

The Pearl Button is out now in select UK cinemas.

Joe is a Cardiff based writer, graduating in 2013 from the University of Glamorgan with a degree in Film Studies. He is also a contributor to The Upcoming where he also writes about film, as well as politics and current affairs. Follow him on twitter at @EustoniteJM

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Posted on Mar 23, 2016

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