(director/writer: Patricio Guzmán; cinematographer: Katell Djian; editors: Patricio Guzmán/Emmanuelle Joly; music: Miguel Miranda/José Miguel Tobar; cast: Gaspar Calas, Lautaro Núñez, Luís Henríquez; Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Meike Martens/Jutta Krug/Renate Sachse; Icarus Films; 2010-Chile/France/Germany-in Spanish and English with English subtitles)


“A soul-searching meditation on the past.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Legendary Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán (“The Battle of Chile”/”The Pinochet Case”/”Salvador Allende”), noted for his hard-hitting political documentaries, shoots this offbeat intellectual poetical film as a soul-searching meditation on the past and brilliantly shows by following a diverse group of people how mankind needs a memory to live in the present. Guzmán treks to the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert, where atop the Chilean desert mountains, 10,000 feet above sea level, he observes international astronomers who use the biggest telescope in the world to track celestial bodies. The perfect conditions of a translucent sky permits them to observe the boundaries of the universe. He also notes that because of the harsh heat of the sun and no rainfall, human remains stay intact: Pre-Columbian mummies from 10,000 years ago, 19th century explorers and miners, and the political prisoners killed by the Chilean military junta and the dictator General Pionochet after the military coup of the democratically elected Allende in September of 1973.Because of these unusual conditions the desert, considered to be “A gateway to the past,’ attracts from around the world archaeologists, anthropologists and those from Chile searching for dead political prisoners to get closure and confirm some dark incidents in history.

While the astronomers do their thing to search the past through the stars and the archaeologists and anthropologists search the past through their findings on the ground, surviving relatives of those who disappeared during the dark days of the dictatorship, many who were tortured and sent to the desert concentration camps, search the desert for the missing bodies and feel the pain of uncovering mass unmarked graves.

Guzmán weaves the search of the past from these two angles of search and comes up with an inspiring and moving look at both the scientists and civilian searchers. The gorgeous shots of the heavens and of the stark lifeless desert and its alien rock paths similar to the surface on Mars, are the fields where the diverse searchers try to find a way to justify their lives through learning from the past and even though their aims are different it makes their journey through this life seem similar. There’s an earnest appeal through interviews and stunningly beautiful photography on location to remind us to never lose track of the past, that is if we wish to live a full life we should be aware that memory is eternal and is knowledge that will unify us with others.