The Atacama desert in Chile is a unique environment on our damp, blue-green little planet. There is practically no moisture in the air at all. Here, we learn, the world’s largest telescopes have been built so that astronomers can gaze deep into space through the clear night sky. Of course, not only are they seeing across vast distances, but they are seeing through time; they are seeing light that was originally emitted from stars millions or billions of years ago. Through the work of thee astronomers, we are learning about the beginning of the universe.
Now, bring yourself forward many millions of years, and there are trade routes through the desert that our ancestors walked. Archeologists sort through the markings on rocks left by these people, and analyse the remains that are found. Everything that we can learn about these people is something we’ve learned about ourselves.
Jump forward again and Pinochet has taken control of Chile in a military coup. The Atacama desert is home to internment camps (where some prisoners enjoy amateur astronomy). Many thousands are killed under his rule; their bodies buried and re-buried in the desert. They are known as ‘the disappeared’. Now, amongst the astronomers and archeologists there are also women who search the desert day after day for the remains of these ‘disappeared’ – their families and loved ones.
These three separate strands weave amongst one another, and are used to build and enforce metaphor and emotion, as well as to contrast. One minute we will be engrossed in thoughts about the creation of the universe, and the next we will be almost brought to tears with stories of captives and victims of Pinochet’s regime.
Everyone in the documentary is searching through time that has been preserved by the nature of this dry desert.
The interviews are poignant, and appropriate with interesting, thoughtful people. Jumping between the three separate strands could have proven complicated, but ultimately proves to balance the film, and creates a much greater meaning than any of them would have managed on their own.
A one-of-a kind documentary about life, death and the beginning of everything.