Traversing cosmic and terrestrial time, Patricio Guzmán’s Chile Trilogy traces the traumatic human history of his beloved homeland. A long, narrow valley hemmed in by the Andes and the Pacific, Chile’s unique geography defines a nation that Guzman suggests is “twisted towards sadness.” The trilogy begins with Nostalgia for the Light, set in the Atacama Desert; the driest place on earth, it is an ideal location for astronomers, a portal to the mysteries of the universe. It is also a landscape into which thousands disappeared after the coup that ousted Salvador Allende in 1973. That devastating event and the damage caused by the violent dictatorship that followed are the points from which the trilogy expands and to which it always returns.
The Pearl Button maps Chile’s 3,999 miles of coast, lingering in the southern region that was once home to thriving indigenous civilizations now all but erased by genocidal colonization. In the process many of them were resettled to the same island that was subsequently used by the Pinochet regime to imprison Allende’s ministers after the coup. In one telling scene Guzmán interviews one of the few surviving Kawésqar people about her language and learns that they had no words for God or police: they didn’t need them. The Cordillera of Dreams reflects on the mountains along the eastern edge of the country. A subject for painters and source of stone for sculptors, for Guzmán they serve as silent witness to a history that must not be forgotten.