The Pearl Button

Chilean director Patricio Guzman has knocked it out of the cosmos again with The Pearl Button****, a documentary that brilliantly connects the stars, water, Patagonia, natives and buttons to politics, murder and human corruption.

Significantly, the doc won Best Script at Berlin last year, which is an odd prize for such a category – but with Guzman’s ruminative voice over and his careful selection of archive, image and natural landscape photography, it’s clear this is more a filmic poem essay than a traditional doc.

There are talking heads. Ancient South American natives describe their memories of living on the archipelago of fjords and islands at the frozen foot of Chile, conduits to a disappeared way of life that began eroding when England’s Capt Fitzroy arrived on The Beagle (Darwin was one of the crew that time) and exchanged a local man for a pearl button.

Guzman connects that episode in wrong-headed colonial experimentation with another button, found at the bottom of the ocean during searches for the victims of General Pinochet’s dictatorship – the hundreds, maybe thousands, of “disappeared”. Guzman even recreates how the regime dispatched the bodies, dropping them, weighed down by bits of train track, into the sea by helicopter…

The point is, water comes and goes with the tides, influenced by the stars and the moons. It pervades and flows and hides; and it provides and sustains life, as well as death.

I loved The Pearl Button. It’s a film to contemplate and sink into, a deep pool of thought and conscience about the cycle of existence and the folly of human nature. It’s serene, stunning and violent and frightening, like the oceans, like the cosmos. Heavy, man, but beautiful.

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