The Hands of Bresson

Sundry observations on the art of cinema and world film culture

Interview with Patricio Guzmán: Nostalgia for the Light

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“Most of my work refers to the historical memory of Chile and Latin America,” says acclaimed documentarian Patricio Guzmán (Salvador AllendeThe Pinochet Case), a Santiago native who has lived in exile for more than three decades, after reflecting on the arc of his long, legendary career. “It’s a passion — creative territory that I have always followed.” Best known for his monumental three-part film The Battle of Chile (1973), an on-the-ground account of democratically elected leftist Salvador Allende’s brief term in office before a U.S.-backed coup d’etat brought dictator General Augusto Pinochet to power, Guzmán has always fought to rescue his native country from cultural amnesia through the art of eyewitness cinema. But his tireless examinations of remembrance (and the violence of forgetting) have been just as trenchant to his many projects.

Guzmán crystallizes these lifelong fixations in his brilliantly self-narrated new documentary, Nostalgia for the Light, a soulful exploration of science, astronomy, politics, and the question of how past and present intermingle in physical spaces, as well as the minds and hearts of the living. In Chile’s Atacama Desert, a coast-hugging ribbon of Martian landscape that is reputed to be the most arid region on Earth, Guzmán discovers a milieu that, while seemingly devoid of life, is steeped in history. Astronomers he meets at the Páranal Observatory, like Gaspar, surveil the night sky utilizing some of the most powerful telescopes in the world, searching for answers about the deep past — Where do we come from? What are we made of? — like archaeologists of the cosmos. In the desert flats surrounding the observatory, veteran scientist Lautaro digs up mummies and pre-Colombian relics, studying the more recent history of humankind. And in yet another torque to the film’s gyre of concerns, we meet two middle-aged women, Victoria and Violeta, who for 28 years have patiently probed the pitiless Atacama sands with small shovels, hoping to exhume the remains of their “disappeared” loved ones, victims of the Pinochet regime. With inexhaustible patience for the stories of those he interviews — nearly all of whom have been touched by the crimes of the post-coup dictatorship — Guzmán creates a somber, often poignant after image of that tragic epoch when hope yielded to corruption, correlating celestial and earthly realities, personal and political histories with magisterial skill.

Click here to read the rest of my interview at Filmmaker.

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Written by eyemaster

March 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm

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