The Pearl Button: A bloodstained mother-of-pearl button
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2015: Chilean director Patricio Guzman gives a voice to the water that bathes the coasts of his magnificent and wild country and formulates a poetic and powerful "I accuse"
It’s rather unusual for a documentary to be included in the Berlin competition, but The Pearl Button [+see also:
film profile] is rather an unusual film. It’s an important work that has brought together a great deal of effort, in both Chile and Europe – as this feature film was made in co-production with Spanish production company Mediapro and French Atacama Productions and France 3 Cinéma with the support of the French CNC and France Télévisions, Ciné+, Radio Télévision suisse and the German regional channel WDR.
Keeping with the point of view of the natural elements and of the cosmos upon which the entire Selknam culture was based (the Selknams were the Amerindian people today wiped out, who lived in harmony with the stark and majestic Chilean nature), seasoned documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán, 73 years old, bases his story on the idea that water has a memory to recount the history of his country and its greatest wounds. Leading us along with a voice, the director first of all shows us, so close up that the image becomes almost conceptual, and wholly lyrical, a quartz boulder found in the Chilean desert that contains a drop of thousand-year-old water. Water, which in cosmic terms represents life, is as omnipresent in the movie as it is in Chile, which owes to it its largest border, there where the Andes tumble into a magnificent and frozen sea, striking the crystalline ice blocks of its powerful waves.
Accompanied by the sound of rain, which we follow as it turns to snowflakes upon the summits and then melts again, breaking up into an infinity of small restless pearls, always moving, the filmmaker speaks to us about the indigenous people, who lived nude in these frozen landscapes and drew immaculate lines and dots on their bodies like the snow on their dark skin, these indigenous peoples with large feet that the colonists (who called them "Patagonians") massacred in half a century (from the end of the 19th century) by taking over their world, bringing with them their deadly germs and finally killing the Selknams by rewarding the "Indian hunters" upon presentation of the beaten indigenous peoples’ organs.
Once this genocide ended, it was followed by another extermination, traces of which are still present in the sea. In the 1970s, under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, the "Caravan of Death" caused thousands of deaths and hundreds of disappearances. It was discovered ten years ago that those disappeared persons had been tied, dead or alive, to rails placed in large plastic bags that were then thrown offshore by army helicopters. There are none or almost no longer any traces left of the missing persons from Villa Grimaldi who were thrown out to sea, that would allow them to be identified, aside from a mother-of-pearl button in the rust of one of those awful rails, encrusted by the water.
"If water has a memory," said poet Raul Zurita, "then it also remembers that." Therein lives the memory of every one of those indigenous persons, of every one of those missing persons from the dictatorship, and that’s why Guzman sought, today, to give that memory a voice.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.