Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Chile, Pinochet, Allende and the sea: Patricio Guzmán's placid, lovely THE PEARL BUTTON

Those of us who have followed the career of writer/director Patricio Guzmán have seen this documentary filmmaker grow and change from a young(er) man covering the dreadful fall and murder of the democratically-elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende -- thanks to the nefarious and illegal efforts of our own nation and its sleazy right-wing leaders -- to an older, seasoned and increa-singly mystical man who must continue covering the horrible events that happen-ed to his country.

With his latest effort, THE PEARL BUTTON, we see the filmmaker (Guzmán is shown at right) moving from the angst and anger of his youth into even more of the quiet, calm acceptance of what has been -- together with the kind of mystical, encompassing understanding that seems to come to some of us with age --  that was such a part of this filmmaker's last documentary, Nostalgia for the Light. While Nostalgia/Light looked up and outward into the skies and to the universe to find solace in the understanding that both the stars out there and the bones of the Chilean dead (and living) are made of calcium, The Pearl Button considers the great sea that partially encompasses Chile and how it, too, has served as solace, provider and graveyard for its people.

This is not to say that, by accepting the past, Guzman is in any way condoning it. Hardly. This man appears to have lived and worked to do as much as he can to keep Chile's awful past current in the minds of his countrymen. It's just that he is now doing it in a more thoughtful, philosophical, even poetic manner -- and the result is a movie that moves us via its beauty, as well as its unearthing of not-so-ancient horrors.

In fact, the Allende regime, together with its disgusting replacement by Pinochet and his minions, does not even come up until past the film's halfway point (the documentary lasts but 79 minutes). Prior to this, we get a strange and amazing history of the indigenous tribes of Patagonia (above), in Chile's southern extreme: how they lived via the sea, how they devoted their bodies (below) to providing a canvas for their art and myths, and how they were at last wiped out almost completely in a genocide that pre-dated by maybe a century or more Pinochet's attempt to wipe out Chile's "socialist" population.

Visually The Pearl Button offers some gorgeous location shots of Chile's ocean venues, its glacial areas, as well as its more verdant locations. We see rain and ice and the original native population -- what's left of them, anyway. We meet poets and scientists and those natives themselves, and finally a few of the folk involved in and with the many "disappeared" who were tortured and murdered during the Pinochet regime.

This is a constant in Guzman's films, though here it is used in a manner much more quiet and subdued than ever before. In fact, there are really only two major disappeared people who are important to the film. One is a young schoolmate of Patricio's who drowns and is never found (the first "disappeared," the filmmaker call him); the other is Marta Ugarte, a woman whom we know mostly by the extraordinary and extraordinarily awful manner in which she died. This is told to us quietly, as is all else in the film, but Ms Ugarte stands in remarkably well for the rest of the "disappeared." As for the impunity offered to so many of the torturers and murderers, "This is," notes Guzmán, "like killing the dead twice."

The movie is, by turns, pantheistic, mystical, challenging, thoughtful, poetic, and sad. We see geography as destiny, and history as horror that only repeats itself. If Guzmán gives this genocide to us filtered through a kind of mysticism, given a subject this awful -- this difficult to comprehend and tolerate -- I am beginning to wonder how else it can be done? I'm stymied. If you have a suggestion, please feel free to offer it up.

Meanwhile, The Pearl Button, from Kino Lorber -- the title of which harks back to those aboriginal natives and one of their number, dubbed Jemmy Button, who (just as does the main character in Malick's classic, The New World) travels to England to discover "civilization" and is paid for his trouble with that titular button -- opens this Friday, October 23, in New York City at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema. In the weeks to follow, it will open in seven more cities. You can click here (then scroll down) to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

No comments: