Festival Review: The Pearl Button / El botón de nácar (2015)

The Pearl Button

A cosmological constellation of water, native tribes and Chile’s disappeared, Patricio Guzmán’s The Pearl Button is a powerful wave of connections.

The Memory Of Water

by Mark Wilshin

The Pearl Button

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Moving from the north to the south and from the desert to the ocean, Patricio Guzmán builds with The Pearl Button a visually stunning documentary from the same cosmological and political seam as his previous film Nostalgia For The Light. From its opening of a drop of water ensconced in a 3,000 year old block of quartz found in the Atacama desert, Guzmán navigates through Chile’s peculiar relationship with its oceans – from its seafaring indigenous Amerindians in Patagonia wiped out by white settlers to the victims of Pinochet’s dictatorship disappeared into the sea without a trace. Constructed out of Guzmán’s glacial voiceover, sensuous images of blue icebergs and rippling streams as well as interviews with oceanographers, poets, victims and historians, The Pearl Button draws in all kinds of influences and relations – the clincher being the coincidence of the mother-of-pearl button (exchanged by one native Chilean nicknamed Jemmy Button for passage to London, who returns to Patagonia a changed man, unable to protect his people from the settler invasion) and the button welded by the sea to a chunk of railway line – the last remains of a life murdered and then disappeared. An expansive, all-encompassing documentary of Chile’s problematic relationship with the Pacific, Patricio Guzman’s film is structurally almost a copy of Nostalgia For The Light, but as a tribute to the victims of Chile’s violent past, The Pearl Button remains a moving and carefully considered testimony.

The Pearl Button was shown at the 65th Berlin Film Festival and is now showing at the 59th London Film Festival

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