The Pearl Button/El botón de nácar (Patricio Guzmán, France/Chile, 2015)

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the pearl button

A film that finds continuities between the genocide of indigenous peoples in Chile and the murder of dissidents by the Pinochet regime, that finds a connection between the stars and the oceans, and that reflects personally and poetically on some of the very grandest of grand narratives. I’m not surprised Patricio Guzmán’s The Pearl Button has received mixed reviews. But I don’t think it deserves them; gorgeous imagery of water poetically montaged together; a narrative in which the different strands merge like streams that flow and separate dialectically and sometimes roars with moments of violence that would shock the heavens– Guzmán really wants to show you all the steps involved in killing and getting rid of dissidents before dumping them on the sea by helicopter — before merging into the same ocean and finding shared humanity. A symbolic but historically grounded pearl button is what connects different stories of colonisation, slavery, displacement and genocide: beauty and horror sublimely presented to the audience. Part of the pleasure of watching films like this is as an encounter with other modes of seeing, conveying and understanding; some of the assumptions in the film — it has a slight mystical dimension–might be in tension with our own. But surely it’s in encountering such differences, in feeling them and thinking them through, that one learns and grows. The Martin Gusinde photographs of the extinct Selk’nam people, and the way Guzmán presents them, are on their own worth the price of admission. I thought it a beautiful film.

david gusnam

José Arroyo

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