It’s been a long few months since the 65th edition of the Berlin Film Festival blew up film nerds’ news feeds back in February. Since then, we’ve seen the slow roll out of some of the festival’s big winners for general audiences, including Ixcanul (Volcano) and El Club, but until recently one title has remained conspicuously low-key. Chilean non-fiction master Patricio Guzmán’s latest work, El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button), premiered at the fest to strong reviews and picked up a Silver Bear for best screenplay along with the Ecumenical Jury Prize, but for months, fans of Guzmán couldn’t so much as find a pirated teaser on YouTube.
Thankfully, that all changed earlier this month, when the English-language official trailer was finally published and distributor Kino Lorber released plans for a limited release in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and a few other choice destinations between October and December of this year. Guzmán made a huge splash on the international film circuit with his breathtaking 2010 cinematic essay Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light), but he’s been known to international cinephiles since 1974-79’s epic three-part political documentary La batalla de Chile (The Battle of Chile), which captured the urgency of the country’s political struggles in the final days of Allende.
The Pearl Button picks up stylistically where Nostalgia left off, mixing powerful images of nature with poetic voiceover reflections on the nature of water, the genocide of Chile’s indigenous peoples, and the more recent mass killings carried out by the Pinochet regime. But don’t look to Guzmán for an academic lecture on hydrology and Chile’s violent past. His films are as close to audiovisual philosophy as one can get, and his near-obsessive fixation on themes of memory and loss speak to the traumatic experience of the Chilean people over the last 50 years and beyond.
Be sure to catch this one on the big screen. Watching giant glaciers crash into the ocean while an elderly genius talks about the nature of time and the universe just isn’t the same on your iPhone.
The Pearl Button opens in New York on October 23, 2015 with additional cities to follow.