Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Nostalgia de la luz

Nostalgia for Light, a beautiful and remarkable Chilean film. Astronomy is prominent: the astronomers of the Atacama, that 600-mile strip of high altitude desert, in parts of which there is complete dessication, no plant or animal life, where it might not have rained for 500 years, where the daytime skies are so clear the planets can be visible, where the astronomers look back in time, sorting through the memories of the big bang. & the night skies there are astonishing.

Archaeologists also work in the Atacama. The oldest deliberately embalmed bodies found in Atacama are several thousand years older than the oldest mummies found in Egypt. But within sight of the observatories, groups of women with spades in hand sift painstakingly through the desert, searching for mass graves from the Pinochet era, searching for and sometimes finding the remains of brothers, sisters, husbands, children. In one place they found a concentration of small bone fragments. They alerted the archaeologists, who examined the site with great care and concluded that it had been a mass grave, but that it had been ripped open with a mechanical digger, and the remains loaded onto trucks. The military said the remains of bodies had been tipped into the sea. Searching the site, one woman found the leg of her brother, identified by the shoe.

The women see themselves as the lepers of modern-day Chile for their insistence on remembering, in a society that wants to move on into a prosperity fuelled by the sale of mineral rights to multinationals. But what else can they do? They, and others, see too much willingness to forget. It was similar in Argentina, in Germany after WW2, in Spain after the Civil War. But if you forget your past, you no longer know where you come from, who you are.

An architect was in five of Pinochet's camps. Every night he would draw what he had seen that day, then tear his drawings into fragments in case the room was searched at night, and at dawn he would dispose of the fragments in the latrines. Released, in exile in Denmark, he was able to remember and recreate all his drawings, and make detailed plans of camps the military denied had ever existed, had 'disappeared'. Memory. If I understand the film correctly, the constitutional relation of military to state hasn't changed, while the standard manual still in use by the military was written some years ago – by Augusto Pinochet.

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