Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la luz) Patricio Guzman ( 2010 Chile) Viewed Tyneside Cinema 12 08 2012 Ticket: £7.00
After viewing the film, I still could not immediately understand the significance of the title. What does ‘Nostalgia’ in this title point to?
Perhaps I missed something that was said, or blinked. There was an acknowledgement in the end credits I think to the person who suggested this phrase, ‘Nostalgia for the light’ (NL) as I thought about the film I began to suspect that it was another instance of Patricio Guzman’s (PG) poetic affectation. Nostalgia implies an idea of a heartfelt sorrowful longing; a sentimentalisation of the past.
Despite some of its harrowing content, the NL is a sentimentalised vehicle of sorts. PG’s film reads like a carefully crafted documentary assemblage that has been designed to produce a film for international distribution. A typical teleological product. In itself that’s fair enough; but the problems arise when such assemblages are constructed out of parts that don’t work in the way they are meant to. The ingredients assembled to whet the appetite of the documentary commissioners, landscape, science, justice don’t work for each other, perhaps even work against each other and have to be forced into coexistence as a kind of filmic sausage. The cost to NL is to vacuously compromise in the conceit of its structure the main concern of its content: the continuing history of the ‘disappeared’ murdered by Pinochet. The stories of the women who search the dessert for bodies, of the architect who memorised the layout of his prisons to be able to reconstruct them when they had gone are core material whose meaning and impact is lessoned rather heightened by the associational structure of NL.
The opening twenty minutes of NL introduces the film’s main proposition. The claim that there is some sort of relationship, a conceptual parallelism between the star gazers located in the desert and the women scouring the dessert for remains of the disappeared. The fact that both these activities share the same location, the extraordinary environment of the Atacama dessert, is given weight and signification at a high metaphysical level. In the ponderous opening sequence, mainly characterised by an unremitting voice over of PG, and an interview with an astronomer, we hear the laborious exploration of the self evident where it is revealed that these astronomers, as they measure light and photons emitted by far away stars, are actually looking into the past! If we don’t get the meta lingo, there is even a comment by one of the star gazers that….”…the stars are looking at us” These people are presented as deep thinkers, involved in the deep paradox of time. This sort of mumbo jumbo is supposed the flatter the audience into believing that ‘deep truths’ they have not previously considered, are being revealed. Following this establishing proposition, the mumbo jumbo about ‘time’ is transposed as a metaphysical framework through which we can understand the way in which the past of Pinochet’s Chile, is seen today, by his victims.
My own feeling was that the audience were being fed a series a specious connections. Connections strong enough to pitch the film, but not strong enough to carry it.
The Atacama dessert is an extraordinary location, whose physical properties, its size and meterological conditions that favour slow decomposition, thereby give a defining quality to the outlook of the women of the lost generation who search there for bodies and body parts. Other than this, the Atacama dessert filmed by PG, has little connection with the core of these women’s concerns either metaphysical or actual. And the accident of the siting of the world’s most advanced telescopes in the desert is again an accident, a particular that no amount of musing about time can actually connect to the disaster of the General’s years. As contextualised in NL is has little relevance.
PG attempts to overcome the paucity of the intellectual/moral nexus of NL by overwhelming us with intercut images. Shot like an airbrushed National Geographic Magazine photo-shoot, PG resorts to the techniques of the advert or of propaganda. Hard cut two ideas from two different domains: you get strong association, connections and sales. We see it in adverts all the time, and we should be equally aware when documentary film makers use these techniques to bypass out critical faculties. The editing style used by PG has nothing to do with the intrinsic material arising out of content in the film. Neither the scientists nor the women reference each other in this cross associational way. It is the filmmaker’s pitch. The continual hard straight cuts from dessert to the intricate marvellous machinery of the telescopes; from the searching women to the analytical astronomers. Of course accompanied by synchronised music characterised by a ponderous series of sonorous chord changes.
I was left with the feeling that a writer like the late JG Ballard would make better and more insightful sense of this encompassing dessert and the worlds that it contains, in particular their essential remoteness from each other. ‘Time’ as a concept in this place has a disconcerting implacability, an indifference to the plight of the women and the camp survivors. The monitors of the scientists suggest that all memory will be filtered down to little blips of electrons on a screen gazed at by educated and cerebral scientists who chart calibrate and record. The scientists in their detachment and sequestered intellectual worlds are as far removed from the emotions of the women as the stars themselves, for they are part of the world that moves on continually endlessly almost at the speed of light.
If further confirmation were needed that PG’s film was primarily an exercise in the expression of an empty sentimentalised production, the final scene provided evidence for the same. In this scene the two main human strands of the film are brought together in one image. As if in this image, this conjoining of concepts, the film’s proposition can become a theorem. We see two of the women who scour the dessert for their disappeared, sitting on the old telescope, their faces smiling and radiant. They have come to look at the stars; this is the moment they yearned for; to gaze on pure time. (perhaps rather pretending to look at the stars from what I could judge)
It is like the pack shot in an advert, neatly even if implausibly, two phenomena from different worlds are married into one image. Truth is presented as self evident, the more so if it is not the truth. adrin neatrour email@example.com