Film Review: Nostalgia de la Luz

July 29, 2012

I saw Nostalgia de la Luz last week with high expectations, since most critics reviewed it very highly.  It is based in the Atacama Desert, which I have researched extensively in preparation for my trip there next week.

A part of me left disappointed. The film itself has two focal points – the astronomers in the desert and the people still recovering from the Pinochet regime. The former includes many drawn out shots of telescopes and the night sky and, albeit an incredible sight, it feels slow and slightly contrived. Many of the links that Guzman makes between the two also seem coincidental rather than meaningful, and therefore don’t glue the sections together as well as was probably intended.

However, the latter focus was a superbly tender and a poignant insight into the Chileans who are still trying to move on from their harrowing experiences in the 1970s and 80s. It’s a reminder of how recent the atrocities of that government are, and an indictment of the current administration that these people are not helped more and held in higher esteem.

One of the main focuses is on the ‘Women of Calama’ who search the Atacama for the remains of their dead loved ones. Though many of the original women have stopped looking, some remain, now in their sixties and seventies.

Every day they walk into the desert, picking up pieces of bleached white bones, kicking at hardened areas of the ground to see if there are hidden remains beneath.

One lady tells the camera, “We are the lepers of Chile.”

The narrator continues along this vein, attempting to show that the official history of Chile seems to stop in 1973 because the government and army won’t face it.  This sort of “end of history”, I noticed, was a recurring theme elsewhere as well.

Yesterday, I visited the National History Museum in Chile which has artifacts, paintings, and descriptions of numerous periods in Chilean history. Much of it is focused on the 18th and 19th centuries, and the massive changes in these stages moving from Spanish rule to independence, and eventually to a democratic government.

However, everything seemed to fall in to place for me when in the final room of the museum, history ends at Allende’s broken glasses.

The film is available to buy on DVD in US format and is on general release in the UK at the moment.  It costs 600 pesos to visit the National History Museum. If you want English translation, remember to ask at the ticket office as all signs are in Spanish.

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