Monday, September 28, 2015

THE PEARL BUTTON AKA EL BOTON DE NACAR - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

As I began to watch Patricio Guzman's stunning documentary, THE PEARL BUTTON, I thought "ah! this is one of those films where I can sit back and let the beautifully photographed majesty of nature wash over me".  And yes, there is some stunning cinematography of nature in this film.  But very quickly we realise that this this film is actually about oppression - the oppression of an indigenous people who lived in Patagonia and were driven to extinction contrasted with the political murders by the Pinochet regime, whose bodies were dumped into the sea.   We are meant to draw an analogy between the people who lived in harmony with the Pacific Ocean, a people who travelled by boat (if not exactly seafaring) who believed that to be submerged in death was to achieve an after-life in the stars, and the victims of Pinochet's violence.

The power of the documentary is in contrasting the majesty and harsh neutrality of nature with the petty violence done by man.  Guzman interviews people who have survived these atrocities and asks them simply to describe how they live with nature, how they relate their tribal culture to their national identity, their experiences...  It's a rightly harrowing watch.   In addition, the film makes a powerful point about how modern Chilean culture ignores its greatest asset. That it has turned in on itself- literally building inland - rather than exploring its coastline and appreciating the wisdom of its indigenous people.  But it's a film that also has its quiet beautiful poetic moments. Literally - as a famous Chilean poet posits a theory for what the tribal body-painting patterns might have meant and how they might have reflected the stars.  

Overall it's a unique, bizarre, disturbing and somehow still beautiful film BUT I suspect that its power will be lost on some who will find its poetic musings trite.

THE PEARL BUTTON has a running time of 82 minutes. It played Berlin 2015 where Patricio Guzman won the Silver Bear for Best Script; the documentary also won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.  It also played Sydney, Toronto and Melbourne 2015. It will play the BFI London Film Festival 2015 where it has been nominated for the Grierson Award.  There are still tickets available for both screenings.  The film will be released in Japan on October 10th, in France on October 25th, in Portugal on November 5th and in Poland on November 20th.

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