Patricio Guzmán’s documentary Nostalgia for the Light seems on the surface like a story of contrasts. When the film opens we are shown a series of incredible images taken from outer space, showing the wonders of the known universe.
You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a special effects spectacular produced by Hollywood until you realise the images are captured by telescopes directed at the stars by astronomers in Chile’s Atacama Desert who take advantage of the region’s thin atmosphere and low humidity to see further into space than from anywhere else on the planet.
However, while the astronomers’ attention is focused on the boundaries of the universe, women at the foot of the observatory are digging into the ground for the remains of loved ones, victims of dictator Augusto Pinochet who turned the desert into a concentration camp in the 1970s.
Guzmán, who made the powerful documentaries The Battle of Chile and Salvadore Allende attempts to draw a parallel between the two subjects, suggesting both are a search for meaning by looking into the past.
On the one hand the astronomers are trying to understand mankind’s place in the universe by studying the conditions which created life in the first while the women who dig endlessly into the soil find meaning in their own lives by refusing to give up hope of uncovering the remains of family members who disappeared under Pinochet’s rule.
The film’s reflective title emphasises the nature of time and distance and its impact on us. One of the astronomers featured in the documentary suggests that the present doesn’t actually exist; rather, everything we see with our eyes is a moment from the past due to the time it takes for light to reach us. However, on a personal note, it also suggests Guzmán’s own yearning for a time in Chile when the country was ‘a haven of peace, isolated from the world’.
Through its amazing celestial visions of deep space and stories of families who have spent the better part of the last three decades re-awakening a bloody chapter in Chile’s past in order to find their loved ones, Nostalgia for the Light is a beautiful poetic film which will not fail to move you.
Nostalgia for the Light will be screened at The Source Arts Centre in Thurles on Wednesday, February 6th at 8pm. Tickets are priced at E9 (E7 concession & E5 for Film Club members). For further information please call the box office on 0504 90204 or visit thesourceartscentre.ie.