"I’ve got 38 years of experience, so I’m capable of making something interesting out of it all."
My usual response to a film with mixed merits is to describe it as “…interesting”, yet, in the case of Nostalgia For The Light, that would be misleading.
Patricio Guzmán accumulated a lot of strong material - beautiful shots of the Atacama desert, mesmerising footage of telescopes tracing the sky and revealing interviews with interesting people - but the whole thing fails to coalesce into a compelling narative. A collection of good riffs that fail to make a great song.
He sets himself a difficult goal, trying to tie together vastly different explorations of the past (mainly astronomy and the political history of Chille), but doesn’t do enough to actually tie them together. All astronomy is seeing into the past, indeed, as one scientist points out, thanks to the speeds of light and consiousness, all our perceptions are of the (very recent) past. On the surface it bears little resemblence to the archeological investigations, but he sets himself the task of unifying it.
The most powerful segments of the film are the women searching the Atacama desert for the bodies of loved ones dissapeared as political prisoners. The whole desert. It’s heartbreaking.
At one point a tearful woman, who’s been searching for years, wishes there was a telescope that could see into the ground to find the bones.
At another point, an enthusiastic scientist shows evidence of calcium, the stuff of bones, in the stars.
Yet, for reasons that escape me, these two clips weren’t edited right next to each other.
The whole pace was so gentle it failed to make the points it was trying to make, it had no urgency, no power. It felt like I was supposed to be inherently interested in what he was trying to do, and that it was enough to produce a drowsy, relaxing film without really trying to make it compelling.
“I’ve got 38 years of experience, so I’m capable of making something interesting out of it all.”
Better luck next time?