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Perhaps best known for his epic, three-part documentary The Battle of Chile, filmmaker Patricio Guzmás has spent much of his career focused on the reverberations from Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet‘s reign during the 1970s and 80s. Nostalgia for the Light is a mercurial, contemplative document that marries astronomy and metaphysics with the heart-wrenching desperation of the Women of the Calama, a courageous group that scours the Atacama desert for the remains of those who disappeared under Pinochet’s repressive regime.
Guzmán’s begins his journey by describing the importance of celestial visions in his youth. At the time, astronomers from all over the world flocked to the desolate, Mars-like terrain of the Atacama for its unique and astonishing clarity. This mysterious land would eventually become associated with repression, concentration camps, and mass graves, where tens of thousands of political prisoners perished among the calcified remains of pre-Columbian Indians and buried meteorites.
As one thoughtful astronomer remarks, it is difficult to unearth “the origins of” in his line of work, which like Guzmán, only reinforces his necessity to learn more. Nostalgia for the Light asks a lot of big questions, many lingering on the inescapable continuum of the past and future. Though the filmmaker places much stock in the infinite mysteries of the universe, the richest segments of this visually arresting and lyrical film come from the testimony of survivors dedicated to restoring honor to their loved ones, despite the government’s supposed relocation of their remains into the sea (“They taught me not to believe,” remarks one survivor). Their belief in the dignity of truth is even more transfixing than the cosmos.
Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de La Luz) screens Saturday at 4 p.m. at The National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium. Free.