The Pearl Button

The Pearl Button ★★★

Beyond Patricio Guzmán's platitudes about the life-creating affirmations to be found in water and the stars, and some ugly reiterations of ugly contemporary documentary modes (beginning with the editing and the way music is used), The Pearl Button is a superior film to the much-lauded Nostalgia for The Light (2010). From what I remember, the latter film is akin to emotional exploitation that reaches its most irresponsible point in one sequence. It occurs when Guzmán makes the mothers and widows of the murdered and missing by the Chilean military junta look through telescopes in order to get his evocative circular tracking shot and to impose the film's narrative that they too believe that a reprieve from all the injustices is in the stars. There is no such exploitation in The Pearl Button. On the contrary, The Pearl Button achieves the poetry so often aimed for in Nostalgia for the Light through the person of poet Raúl Zurita as a talking head.

There are two reasons why I've discovered that Chile, la memoria obstinada (1997) is Guzmán's most powerful film since the 70s. Its methodology approaches collective/participatory documentary filmmaking that gave agitprop Third Cinema its fire; it refers to history as the circulation of images between the event and its memory, perforated by personal impressions and traumas, thereby achieving a humanist and collectivist anti-historicism. That is quite an achievement for a filmmaker currently so adored and reputed for rescuing the collective sorrows of a country’s recent past, memories, and traumas. When in fact what he has been presenting since Nostalgia for The Light is an idiosyncratic auteurist narrative.