The Pearl Button
Directed by Patricio Guzmán
HOME, 12 March 2016
It is an eclectic, electrifying mix.
The film looks at the origin of water and therefore the origin of all life on earth (not just human life); the fate of the Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) people, in particular the Selk’nam and Yamana, whose ethnography was studied by the German-Austrian priest Martin Gusinde (his photographs appear in the film); and finally the fight for justice by relatives of ‘the disappeared’, the political prisoners murdered during General Pinochet’s reign. For some little while you wonder whether these seemingly diverse themes will hang together; they do, triumphantly.
Nick Flynn wrote a poem some years ago about the death of a person he loved. In the poem he wonders whether there might be a heaven, a place of redemption, where they might meet again. There is an allusion to the scientific search for ether, a search that Einstein put the scuppers on soon enough: ether cannot be found, he pointed out, because it does not exist.
Flynn’s bleak and beautiful poem relates to The Pearl Button in this way: Patricio Guzmán has found a kind of heaven, he can point to a quasar that holds infinitely more water, and therefore potential for life, than all of the oceans of the earth. It is a scientific fact and a source of hope, a small something to hold on to. An image, at least, with which to confront evil.
Here is an article about the quasar.
Patricio Guzmán has made a very fine film.