01 December 2013

Nostalgia for the Light

The real star of this thoughtful documentary is the footage, which is absolutely incredible. But the premise is not less fascinating; a contemplation of the skies over Chile and the ground under it. Juxtaposing the continuing search for the bodies of those who "disappeared" during the Pinochet regime with astronomical research, the film offers a lyrical reflection on space, time, and human knowledge.

The skies above Chile are remarkably clear, and the soil is very dry, making both highly amenable to exploration. What lies in between, however, is much more murky. What struck me about the film is the way it presented both archaeology and astronomy as studies in history, a process of reading traces that strangely spatializes time, but offers a sort of arid clarity. In contrast, the realm of socio-political history is messy, and in the particular case of Chile, deeply complicated by efforts of those in power to obscure it by hiding physical evidence. It is precisely by producing physical remnants--detailed maps of the camps, or the heartbreaking search for bodies--that people strive to give it concreteness. And those tangible objects speak their history in all kinds of ways. There was this moment where someone points out that Pinochet did not need to build concentration camps; in one case, at least, he could use barracks that had been constructed for 19th century miners. Which, the speaker notes, attests to the labor conditions of those miners...

It's not a cheerful film, and it must be admitted that it's occasionally a bit ponderous and repetitive, but it's nonetheless a very interesting movie, and decidedly worth watching.

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