This magical, moving documentary is from Patricio Guzman, the Chilean filmmaker who has spent a lifetime exploring his country’s unsteady relationship with its past. While others bury their heads in the sand over Pinochet’s murderous regime during the 1970s and ’80s, or the slave labour on which Chile’s nineteenth-century prosperity was built, Guzman heads to the sands of the country’s Atacama Desert to confront with poetry and sensitivity – but also a journalist’s keen eye and rigour – themes of remembering and forgetting, exploring and ignoring.
It’s in the airless time capsule of the Atacama that Guzman encounters astronomers seeking answers about the universe, archaeologists hunting for evidence of past societies and ageing women searching for the remains of loved ones who were ‘disappeared’ under Pinochet. Guzman draws gentle but illuminating parallels between these stories. But underlying his film is a forceful plea for us to look beyond our noses to understand where we’ve come from, whether that means reaching out to the stars in the sky (presented beautifully in crisp images captured by observatories in the Atacama) or digging for bones in the ground.
Everything about this film makes you look with fresh eyes at the familiar. Guzman himself is a quiet, offscreen presence. You can imagine Werner Herzog making similar connections between the vastness of the cosmos and the more concrete details of human experience, but you can’t imagine him doing it – as Guzman does – with a sense of wonder anchored in solemnity and sobriety. A truly eye-opening experience.