Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Starry Diaspora

Nostalgia for the Light
2010. 90 minutes. Chile. Directed by Patricio Guzmán. Watchdate: 5/19/2011
Patricio Guzmán explores the mysteries of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, where astronomers can get a better view of the stars than anywhere else, where the bereaved search for the preserved bodies of Pinochet's victims in the shifting sands, where inscriptions survive from Pre-Colombian indigenes.

In a brief but profoundly thoughtful documentary, Guzmán allows the cosmological and the political, the anthropological and the astronomical to intermingle and cross-pollinate rather than being artificially walled off from one another by different academic departments or different specialty television networks. A elegy for Chile's painful past but also searching meditation on the nature of time, memory and truth, Guzmán asks us to reconsider what is meant by the term 'history.'

I couldn't be more encouraged to watch a documentary that so eloquently demonstrates the power of the sort of contemplation proposed by Big Historians such as David Christian and the geologist Walter Alvarez. The future is unknowable, the present is fleeting and so the past - the history of everything - is all we have. That's a paraphrase of Alvarez, but an astronomer interviewed in this movie says something very similar. On top of it all, the Atacama Desert is a uniquely gorgeous setting to film.

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