Only one necessary:
Take a Drink: for every metaphor of and poetic parallel to H2O
Do a Shot: for atrocities
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman has made a career of documenting the temporary hopes and dreams of the Salvador Allende era and how they were dashed and pulverized by the Pinochet coup and dictatorship. However, in recent years he’s been finding more elliptical, more poetic ways to approach the subject.
Uniting the universe and the Atacama desert would certainly qualify as both.
In The Pearl Button Guzman approaches from another oblique angle- water, the element that the 6,500 km coast-boasting Chile understandably has a vivid relationship with. Beginning his chain of subjects there, he moves to the nomadic indigenous seafarers of Patagonia, Chile’s cruel treatment of them, and, finally the cruel Pinochet years and one particularly brutal practice of theirs that brings the film back to where it started- the sea.
Right from the arresting first image of a block of quartz encasing a solitary, thousands of year old drop of water, the imagery that Guzman conjures and the masterful way he juxtaposes it with immersive sound design and elegiac orchestral music is nothing short of completely engaging. When you include his arresting use of close-up, slow-motion, and tracking shots, coupled with his own erudite, pacific voiceover, the only comparison is Terence Malick by way of Werner Herzog, which, well, is about as flattering as comparisons can get.
Or, for some folks, boring. Their loss.
Guzman, of course, is after something different than a beautiful viewing experience. As the film goes along, it transitions from a love letter to the element of life and its importance to his beautiful country in particular to something thornier, more challenging, and ultimately disturbing. The fascinating ethnography of the Patagonian peoples (particularly intriguing- the connection between the Stone Age and the Space Age that still-living interviewees represent) becomes an examination of the evils of Colonialism, and the more modern evils that Guzman has spent a career documenting, and which, at least to him and many of the subjects of the film, every path will always lead back to.
Get ready to follow plenty of extremely esoteric tangents. Seriously, just accept it.
It grows on you.
A bigger drawback is how Guzman tries to tie together the three main areas of focus of his documentary. In particular, the final thesis that draws parallels to the crimes of the Pinochet regime makes sense on paper from a logical and poetic sense, but feels tenuous, especially once Guzman goes back to his interviewees to explain the metaphor over and over, and over again. Honestly, the one image of the pearl button embedded in the rail that was used to sink the bodies of dissidents says more than the final 10 minutes of talking heads ever could.
Patricio Guzman definitely finds more interest in the paths less traveled as he guides his audience on this documentary journey, but sit back and let him lead. He’ll show you some amazing and thought-provoking sights.