Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nostalgia for the Light

In the arid Atacama Desert in Chile astronomers examine the skies through hulking telescopes, trying to unravel the burning mysteries of life while nearby families of the victims of the Pinochet regime search for the remains of their loved ones in a tireless and mostly fruitless search. In "Nostalgia for the Light", filmmaker Patricio Guzman mashes these two disparate topics together while making vague generalizations to tie them together in a dull, lazily constructed, convoluted, and borderline insulting documentary. By comparing the women's search to a scientists search for truth ("the calcium in the bones of the victims is the same as the calcium in the stars"), Guzman is trivializing these injustices. The film also centers much on astronomy, but does not feel compelled to explain much to us and is instead contented with providing shots from the telescope with broad and often nonsensical explanations from the selected astronomers. This was a critical darling amongst the few who reviewed it and there is a problem in film criticism that I think should be addressed. With the onslaught of sameness they must endure, critics often mistakenly equate uniqueness with greatness while ignoring what makes a film fundamentally good. This also tangentially applies to the slew of documentarians who approach their craft with the enthusiasm and presentation of a public service announcement or educational films. Documentaries are film and must be presented as such and the great documentarians (Ken Burns, Michael Moore, Alex Gibney, the Maysles) know that a camera, interviewees, charts & statistics (n/a here), and photographs alone do not constitute a good film. A little cohesion and clarity wouldn't hurt either.