The Pearl Button



A truly amazing film that provides a memorable companion piece to Nostalgia for the Light made by Patricio Guzmán in 2010.


Now a septuagenarian, Chile’s great filmmaker Patricio Guzmán has aims that make him unique in cinema. He has long been established as a documentarian deeply concerned with political and social issues. Indeed, it was his three-part film The Battle of Chile made during the 1970s that put him on the cinematic map, but his obsession with his country’s history in general and the period of Pinochet’s dictatorship in particular has in no way diminished. He clearly believes that the elimination by Pinochet of all those who came to be referred to as ‘the disappeared’ is something that has not yet been fully faced by his countrymen and that the need for them to do so, if not now then eventually, renders his films on the subject important.


Pearl Button, The


That element on its own would make his work admirable, but it would still invite comparisons between him and Claude Lanzmann who has been equally committed to a subject, in his case the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. What makes Guzmán unique is the fact that, even as he retains his preoccupation, he has also sought in Nostalgia for the Light and now in The Pearl Button to blend those concerns with something so special that these films transcend the traditional documentary. Relying in each film on the exceptional ability of the photographer Katell Djian and using mainly Miranda and Tobar for atmospheric music, Guzmán has created works of stunning aesthetic beauty, an artist’s view of the world that makes us see things with fresh eyes. If the earlier film featured space as observed through the astronomical telescopes in Chile’s Atacama desert, here he moves further south taking on the theme of water, its essential place in human life and its particular significance for those living in the archipelago of Western Patagonia.


In Nostalgia for the Light the two sides of the film were offered in a conjunction that often seemed forced. Even here a sense of watching two films in one remains, but the links are more persuasive. The setting takes us back to the history of the indigenous peoples whose way of life would be increasingly eradicated once colonisers arrived (a few survivors contribute memorably to the film). If seen as innocent victims, they foreshadow in part those killed on Pinochet’s orders leading to bodies being dumped in the ocean as illustrated here in a reconstruction. Thus we come back to water and this film’s final moments return to the style of its opening with images that really must be seen in the cinema to appreciate their full worth. As it turns out, the film’s title relates to incidents in both the 19th and 20th centuries. But as this film proves Guzmán’s commitment to history has been joined by a cause hardly less potent, the development of what cinema can achieve as an art form today.




Featuring Gabriela Paterito, Rául Zurita, Emma Malig.


Dir Patricio Guzmán, Pro Renate Sachse, Screenplay Patricio Guzmán, Ph Katell Djian, Patricio Guzmán, David Bravo and others, Ed Emmanuelle Joly, Music Miranda & Tobar and Hughes Maréchal.

An Atacama Productions, Valdivia Film, Mediapro. France 3 Cinéma co-production etc.-New Wave Films.
82 mins. France/Chile/Spain/Germany/Switzerland/USA. 2015. Rel: 18 March 2016. Cert. 12A.