A scene from The Pearl Button (Kino Lorber)

A scene from The Pearl Button (Kino Lorber)

It’s hard to imagine a more fascinating place on earth than Chile. If we had to pick one country to show an alien race what varying geographical features our planet has to offer, it would probably be that country. It has more than 4,000 kilometers of coastline and the highest volcano and part of the longest mountain range (the Andes) in the world. Anyone with a strong interest in astronomy knows that Chile has the best area in the world to observe space, the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on the planet. You can see more stars there than anywhere, and astronomers have flocked to it for ages.

The new documentary, The Pearl Button, by veteran filmmaker Patricio Guzmán (Nostalgia for the Light) represents Chile in all of its impressive, humbling variety. There is a heavy emphasis on the ocean and on the stars, the two realms that the long, slim nation is squeezed between. The film makes the case that Chile is as close to an alien world as anything that we might find on an actual exoplanet. If we do discover, or someday travel to one, it will likely be as closely linked with water and flush with countless stars.

The film poses that this hypothetical exoplanet might have inhabitants similar to the Chilean Indians in Patagonia. The film has many fascinating images, and footage, of these Indians, who were abused and killed off by rapacious Western settlers. The film interviews elder members, who speak a dying language but still recall some of its words (there are many Western terms that have no meaning in their language). The film makes the point that, hopefully, beings like the Chilean Indians on other planets will enjoy a better fate than their counterparts here on Earth. There is also discussion of the human rights abuses by Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. In his voice-over, Guzmán seamlessly connects all the threads.

Throughout, viewers are treated to images of the mind-boggling beauty of the Chilean landscape. Insightful interviews with historians and philosophers discuss how much of a blessing, and a burden, it has been for the Chilean people to inhabit such a vast, varying landscape. It is really three countries in one—the north, the central, and the south. It has one of the driest, hottest deserts in the world, some of the highest mountains, and its southern tip is about as close as you can get to Antarctica. There is practically no physical feature on the earth that is not contained in the expanse of Chile.

The Pearl Button is a highly informative, absorbing look at the culture and dark history of one of our planet’s most unique locales. Highly recommended.

Written and Directed by Patricio Guzmán
Produced by Renate Sachse
Released by Kino Lorber
Spanish and Kawéskar with English subtitles
Chile/France/Spain. 82 min. Not rated