As I try to jot down a few thoughts after midnight, I have renewed respect for journalists who cover festivals on a regular basis. I must confine myself to summaries.
In Cannes’ opening days, docs in the Special Screenings section have made a strong showing. I heard reports of people being turned away from premieres in theaters with 300-400 seats of both Sabina Guzzanti’s DARQUILA: ITALY TREMBLES and Patricio Guzman’s NOSTALGIA FOR LIGHT. I caught up with them in market screenings on Saturday.
NOSTALGIA FOR LIGHT continues Guzman’s long effort to chronicle Chile after the coup d’etat that killed Salvador Allende in 1973. The filmmaker’s work began with the epic BATTLE FOR CHILE that belongs in the documentary canon and continued through films such as OBSTINATE MEMORY and SALVADOR ALLENDE. I will admit to feeling like I’d had my fill of this topic after recent works by other filmmakers such as SUGAR CURTAIN (TIFF 06); A PROMISE TO THE DEAD (TIFF 07) and CALLE SANTA FE (which received the top prize when I sat on the jury at CPH:DOX 07). But in this new work Guzman finds a novel approach by training his eye on Chile’s Atacama desert where astronomers come to “touch the stars” thanks to unique conditions that make it an ideal place for a telescope.
Guzman takes an essayistic approach, speaking in his own voice over carefully composed shots that make us alert to the play of light, the sound of wind and the texture of the earth. To study the stars is to study the past, explains one astronomer. He adds that “everything takes place in the past including this conversation – even if by millionths of a second.” Outside the observatories in the desert, a different search for the past is conducted as a group of older women who dig for bodies of “the disappeared” from Pinochet’s regime. Guzman skillfully weaves these two threads together, particularly in a wordless scene near the end that welled up my jaded eyes.
DRAQUILA: ITALY TREMBLES brings a more whimsical approach in the hands of Guzzanti, an experienced Italian provocateur whose previous film VIVA ZAPATERO chronicled her battle against Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire. This time she’s taking Berlusconi to task for his response to the 2009 earthquake in the town of L’Aquila. DRAQUILA has moments of feeling like the Daily Show with plenty of comic graphics and sound effects to illustrate its points. But Gazzanti is no lightweight. She doggedly follows a trail of corruption, greed and abuses of power. For fans of Erik Gandini’s film VIDEOCRACY that raised curiosity about Berlusconi when it played at TIFF and STF last year, DRAQUILA offers a vast catalogue of his malfeasances. She makes the case that Berlusconi took advantage of the L’Aquila crisis in order to consolidate power when his popularity was sinking. In the words of one L’Aquila resident, Italy is a “shit dictatorship” only using television instead of torture. The film has already made waves covered in the New York Times.