The Pearl Button (2015) [Patricio Guzmán]



I found this to be a sad, powerful, and haunting film. Never before have I seen a movie that’s so short – it is only 81 minutes long – but covers so much relative to its running time. It covers everything from the history of Chile’s indigenous peoples to Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship; it expands outwards, away from Earth, into the cosmos and back again. Some critics seemed to find this all a little too much; some seemed to find the focus on the genocides and then the cruelties of the Pinochet regime to belong in a different film; some found the connections with the cosmos to be strained and not as well done as, say, The Tree of Life – but I’m of the opposite mind. I think it works far better here than it did in The Tree of Life and I think it all holds together remarkably well. It helps that despite its short running time, the movie never seems to go by quickly. It begins slowly, obliquely, and with a meditative pace and narration by Guzman, it begins by first focusing on a simple fact: water and its importance to life. From there, it builds slowly, and like the ocean itself, skillfully spreads out and envelops several subjects into its narrative. It has a deep love of humanity but shows us the cruelty human beings are capable of. It has a deep nostalgia for the way things used to be, for the way life used to be much simpler, much more important, but it’s also constantly looking forward – forward and outward. It’s a delicate film, bolstered by Guzman’s quietly probing interviews with his subjects and his intelligent direction, all told with remarkable clarity, making this one of the best films I’ve seen in quite some time. I look forward to exploring more of his filmography.

Grade: A-


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