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Nostalgia For The Light

Nostalgia For The Light

By V.Venkateshwaran • November 18th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
New Wave Films

Release date: July 13th, 2012
Running time: 90 minutes

Writer and director: Patricio Guzmán
Composers: Miguel Miranda, José Miguel Tobar

Cast: Patricio Guzmán (narrator) Gaspar Galaz, Lautaro Núñez, Luís Henríquez

Nostalgia For The Light

“The Universe is wider than our views on it.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

There are many documentaries that touch our hearts and leave an impact. Nostalgia for the Light is a documentary that falls into this distinction. Set in the midst of the arid, dry regions of the Atacama Desert, it gives a clue to the mysteries of universe, civilization, human interference with technology and much more.

It does this by having two plots running parallel. One of them deals with the astronomers working in a space station to unlock the secrets of universe. The other one deals with group of women searching for the traces of their loved ones who were lost in the Chacabuco concentration camp under the dictatorship regime of Pinochet.

The two plots are related and yet appear to be different on first impression. Both are immersed in the vastness of the Atacama Desert and are shown in breathtaking ways. It makes you think and ask a lot of questions. It touches almost all the scientific fields known to mankind including philosophy and archaeology.

It opens with detailing the intricate workings of a giant telescope stationed in the desert, followed by the awe-inspiring image of our Moon and its craters. Then director Patricio Guzman narrates about his obsession with telescopes, astronomy and universe. He also talks about Chile’s past in the past and the geography of Atacama Desert.

Astronomer Gaspar Galaz comments on the very existence of life and the struggles of a group of women searching for their lost ones in the desert. “Where do we come from, Where are we and where are we going?” For me, this was the best part.

Nostalgia For The Light

Galaz goes on to discuss the origin of universe, the planets, the solar system, the relation religion has with science, evolution and the impact of human civilization. Some of what he talks about is difficult to express here and to question because it’s way beyond my knowledge. May be I should listen more to theorists like Zizek and Freud, that might help me to have an opinion on this subject.

He explains the story of the never-ending loop in the life of an astronomer, in the quest to find the origin of universe, which will answer two questions but in the process, would give rise to four more questions which requires further introspection. Even during the interview, the director engrosses us by showing the night sky over the desert and its closeness to the stars by relating to the views put forward by Gaspar Galaz. Along with the surreal background score, it’s pure bliss.

The most remarkable and thought-provoking one of all is the definition of past and future and a trap called the present. He says whatever we do, it’s planned already, including his interview that he is giving in front of the camera. What we are receiving in our brains is the future for the past and he concludes the absolute present occurs only in the state of mind and in the things we perceive in the past as an extension.

Then I came to understand the very meaning of the title.

The story that is retold by the survivors about the life in the Chacabuco concentration camp was intriguing. Some of them, even in the camps, were involved in the astronomical findings back then and they confess that activity was a means of liberation for them and sole means of escaping from the atrocities by the men of Pinochet.

Each individual shown in Nostalgia For The Light is unique and has a striking Nostalgia For The Lightadmiration for the desert and the translucency of the sky.

It not only gives the account of the lives of the people and their relatives who were traumatized by the events of their past but also their present attitude in dealing with it. The story of the women who search for the remains of their disappeared relatives is a heart-wrenching and a traumatic one. For them, even if they happened to find a single bone in a tiring, humid day, that’s more than what they need. Some days pass without any traces, but these women, for the past 17 years, are making the same expedition again and again with the hope they find the remains of their dear ones someday or the other.

Both the astronomers and the women never stop asking questions, who knows when they’ll find the answers, but digging into the past is one way forward and it’s as informative as it is nostalgic.

“Those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none, don’t live anywhere” ~ Patricio Guzmán


Venkateshwaran is a spoilt engineer who enjoys life through watching movies. He is a lover of world cinema with a passion for films spanning different genres which he will recommend to anyone and everyone around him.

Apart from being a big-mouth in Twitter (@venkyyells), he also writes about what he loves in the movies at his blog, Frames of Eternity

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