Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la Luz) is a Chilean documentary by director Patricio Guzmán and cinematography by Katell Djian. It was made in 2010 but only recently received a UK wide release.
The Atacama desert in Chile is one of the driest places on Earth, naturally making it a hotspot for passionate astronomers, geologists and archaeologists alike (some rock scrawling are estimated to be at least 10,000 years old). Nostalgia for the Light looks not only at the famed desert, but also into Chile’s modern history much of which, as we discover, is shrouded by the government in mystery and denial. Between 1973-4, a U.S.A backed military coup led to a Chilean dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, the repercussions of which are still ever present as relatives scourge for their loved ones in the unending desert. Yet here in this desolate location, director Patricio Guzmán plunges into the worlds of archaeology, geology, astronomy and history with a balanced interest in all aforementioned topics, presenting them all with a genuine and personal curiosity. He is equally interested in the incredible night sky that unfurls itself upon the desert at night as he is in recording the mechanical whirring and clunking of the telescope that peers into it. Having made a 3 part documentary on the subject of the Battle of Chile, Guzmán wears his political opinions on his sleeve treating the tortured, missing and deceased souls who suffered during Chile’s 1970s political turmoil the utmost respect. It’s refreshing, too, to see a documentary questioning the very nature of what we consider ‘past’, with astronomer Gaspar Galaz stating rather bluntly ‘There is no present.’
Guzmán’s keen eye for a great shot colours the opening 10 minutes with everything from images of the vast cosmos to the dust swirling around an abandoned study, but perhaps it is the ensemble of subjects he has assembled that give the film a humanist tone and engaging characters. These people open themselves up completely in front of the camera, such as Valentina Rodríguez an astronomer who was raised by her grandparents and whose bravery is equalled in measure by her modesty. In fact, the film itself has a sort of unpretentiousness by maintaining a limited number of techniques to keep the focus where it matters. Despite this, Guzmán in his role as narrator occasionally hammers home the underlying theme of inter-connectedness between both the people and their interests with an unnecessary straightforwardness. NftL’s pacing may not make it the accessible to a wider audience, with Guzmán showing us just a taste of the Chilean women’s arbitrary search for their loved ones. But the film could not have been made any other way – to do so would be to sacrifice the sincerity integral to its style. But if any part of this review has sparked an interest in you, the reader, then NftL is worth a watch. Just as one scientist states that we are all made of stardust, so too is Nostalgia for the Light something of a shining star after a weak Summer blockbuster season.