Two years after it premiered at the Cannes film festival, Nostalgia for the Light eventually hit British cinemas. It was released to very favourable reviews from both across the world and in its homeland of Chile, reviews were correct as Nostalgia for the Light certainly makes for compelling viewing. Patricio Guzmán’s startling documentary goes to the Atacama Desert to look at the skies in an attempt discover our origins, meanwhile, also in the Atacama Desert, a group of women search though the vast desert to recover the remains of the loved ones lost during Augusto Pinochet’s brutal regime.
Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light is undoubtedly a beautiful film to look at, the images of far away galaxies are spectacular, but what are equally spectacular are the carefully photographed shots of the Atacama Desert. It is beautiful place, yet lifeless but also harbouring a dark secret of which many would like to forget, but as the documentary notes it is important never to forget. It is suitable that such a place completely untouched by humanity and so unearthly becomes a forefront of astronomical discovery (the surface of Atacama Desert is like the surface of Mars). The starry night sky makes for some stunning viewing, being a city dweller it is something I very rarely get to appreciate, but the stars doting the night sky above is only something you miss when you actually look up at the sky and see it dotted with stars. Only then does one begin to appreciate how wonderful it actually is.
However tenuous you think the link is between the astronomers and the women looking for the remains of their loved ones is it is impossible to be left unmoved by their staggering stories. Where the documentary is at its finest is when it is discussing the impact of the Pinochet dictatorship. Having ruled Chile with an iron fist for over fifteen years the high numbers of those exiled, imprisoned or executed remains a shockingly high statistic, considering the fact that the attention he receives is very little in comparison to other dictators. It is clear that the wounds opened during the period are still open twenty years after his dictatorship ended. The viewer discovers the impact of the Pinochet regime from the words of those who survived the concentration camps and those who still search the desert hoping that they will find the remains of a loved dumped unceremoniously in the desert by the countries' military. From the viewpoint of those interviewed and the documentary’s director, the women who search the desert are just like the astronomers searching the night sky.
It is these interviews when the film is at its most moving, the incredible stories of love and loss are powerful, they capture the foul poison that seeps into modern day Chile from the wounds of the past, however it seems that these women, looking for a release, are reminding Chile of its past. For most of us it is impossible to comprehend the situation these women are in, but we can perhaps understand why they go to such lengths looking for such a release, as they feel imprisoned in their own camp. The words of these women are strong, they are heartbreaking and during these touching moments their issues are more important than the universe itself. For these few moments, the incredible stories that these women share to us makes the vastness of the universe seem almost insignificant.
Nostalgia for the Light is a politically powerful documentary that argues forgetting a widespread trauma of the past is a great dishonour to those who lived though such a time. It has a strong hold over the audience, leaving them moved, shocked and amazed by the visuals and stories present in the documentary. The film leaves you with an impression that so much is to be discovered of the past out in the vastness of the universe, but there is also so many stones unturned in our recent past that need be turned. However dark the past may be it must never be forgotten as those without a memory do not live anywhere. Nostalgia for the Light is a fascinating documentary that is not to be missed.