Nostalgia For The Light

Patricio Guzmán's documentary, Nostalgia For The Light, is a stunning, philosophical and heartbreaking journey into the heart of Chile.


The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the best places to observe the skies on Earth. As a result, astronomers gather here hoping to find answers to life’s fundamental questions. Meanwhile, on the ground nearby, archaeologists work to piece together clues about Chile’s ancient history.


Guzmán, who has lived in exile from his home country for many years, notes in his film that Chile seems happy to examine its past in these two areas. However, the country is not able (or, in some cases, willing) to look into its more recent past - concerning the devastating regime of Augusto Pinochet.   



Nostalgia For The Light begins by introducing us to Chile's observatories and the stunning images of the cosmos they have captured. The film then looks at the fascinating artifacts, paintings and rock carvings - each thousands of years old - that have been discovered by Chilean archaeologists. 


Using these incredible discoveries, Guzmán questions the concept of time. He considers if there is any such thing as the present - as, of course, everything is in the past. The director asks an astronomer and an astrologer why it is that Chile cannot focus on events in the country's more recent past.


This proves to be a challenging question to answer. It is also a truly heartbreaking one as Nostalgia For The Light explores stories of Chile’s 'disappeared'. The Rettig Report, designed to investigate the disappearances and human rights abuses that occurred in Chile during the Pinochet years, found that 2,279 persons who disappeared during that time were killed for political reasons.


In addition, 30,000 people are believed to have been tortured and a further 30,000 could be added to this number as many may not have wanted to come forward.


The documentary charts the plight of the families of the disappeared - many of whom still do not know what has happened to their family members. 



Searching For Chile's Disappeared

After the discovery of human remains in the Atacama desert (including mass graves), groups of women started to comb the barren landscape (described as the closest thing we have to Mars on Earth) looking for the bones of their loved ones. Guzmán talks to several of these women.


Hearing their stories is a moving and emotional experience. All they want is to retrieve the remains of their relatives so that they can give them a proper burial. It seems clear that, given the size of the desert (and the rumours that many bodies and body parts were thrown into the sea) that their search will be in vain. Guzmán conveys their strength amid almost unbearable pain.


Nostalgia For The Light also includes the story of a woman who is the daughter of disappeared parents. Brought up by her grandparents, she has struggled with what is a gaping hole in her life. She has, however, moved forward, married and now has a son of her own. She takes solace in the fact that her husband and son will never know the pain that she has experienced.


Guzmán highlights the comfort she finds in the world of astronomy. Here, on a molecular level, we are all a part of the past and, as a result, nothing is ever truly lost and nothing ever dies. 

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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