From Dust to Dust

This is my review of Nostalgia for the Light [DVD] [2010] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC].

This patchily brilliant documentary is packed with striking images of the Atacama desert, where ancient rock carvings and bodies of native Indians, C19 miners and more recent victims of state brutality are preserved by the intensely arid climate, which also enables distant stars to be viewed in great profusion with unusual clarity. Using a poetic voice-over, the film attempts to draw parallels between the astronomers' search for knowledge of our galactic past, using high-tech telescopes installed in the desert, archaeologists investigating a more recent history amongst the rocks, and the current harrowing search by a small number of ageing women still searching for the remains of their loved ones who disappeared in the 1970s.

I tend to agree with an earlier reviewer who felt that the attempt to link astronomy with political repression does not entirely work, although I think that it could. To use the study of the stars to remind us that the dust from which we come and will return is very old and possibly extraterrestrial in origin is one way of helping us come to terms with terrible events and move on. The power and pathos of the film would have been increased for me by less use of repeated shots of simulated stardust, firm editing of interviews, such as the rather tedious exchanges with scientists gamely trying to respond to the arty questions posed, and omission of some rather lengthy contrived or staged shots. I think the film was meant to have a dreamlike quality, but at times I found it too slow. The tone of the voice-over tends at times to be a little too mawkish, but that is a matter of taste. Also, perhaps too many points are spelt out as to what we should be thinking, when we are well able to form conclusions for ourselves.

It is clearly important that the atrocities of Pinochet's regime should not be forgotten, not least in the UK where our Government gave sanctuary to a man guilty of dreadful crimes. The unusual environment of the Atacama provides an opportunity to tell the story in the distinctive way chosen here.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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