Nostalgia for the Light

Nostalgia for the Light the latest film by the Chilean director, Patricio Guzmán, is about the Atacama desert in Chile. It is widely considered to be the driest place in the world. Because of its perpetually clear skies, Atacama is the home to a number of astronomical observatories. It is also of great interest to archaeologists, because of the ruins and numerous petroglyphs left by pre-Columbian peoples.

The place is also the site of a concentration camp used by the Pinochet government. It was originally an abandoned mining camp, but the government found it could easily be converted to a prison. (The point here being that the miners were little more than prisoners themselves.) We meet a former inmate. He talks about how he and other prisoners formed a club devoted to learning about astronomy. Thinking about the vastness of the universe made him feel free. (Interestingly, the film tells us that the Pinochet government was hostile towards science.)

We meet women who spend their time digging in the desert, looking for the bodies of people killed by the Pinochet regime. We also meet an employee at one of the observatories, whose parents disappeared under Pinochet.

Nostalgia for the Light is a meditation on the nature of the past and of the importance of memory. In some ways, it is a subtle rebuke to those Chileans who want to forget the dark moments from their country’s history. In various ways, the film makes the point that the past is always with us.

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