The ocean contains the history of all humanity. The sea holds all the voices of the earth and those that come from outer space. Water receives impetus from the stars and transmits it to living creatures. Water, the longest border in Chile, also holds the secret of two mysterious buttons which were found on its ocean floor. Chile, with its 2,670 miles of coastline and the largest archipelago in the world, presents a supernatural landscape. In it are volcanoes, mountains and glaciers. In it are the voices of the Patagonian Indigenous people, the first English sailors and also those of its political prisoners. Some say that water has memory. This film shows that it also has a voice.
From the same director
Patricio Guzmán (concept)
Bruno Bettati (co-producer), Marisa Fernández Armenteros (associate producer), Eva Garrido (associate producer), Fernando Lataste (co-producer), Adrien Oumhani (executive producer), Jaume Roures (co-producer (as Jaume Roures Llop)), Renate Sachse (producer)
Water is the source of everything; our lives, our history, it has power, it is capable of sustaining life or destroying it, it holds communication from outer space and it defines our future. It is also the longest border to Chile, contrastingly one of the driest places on earth. These aquatic holistic musings are the basis of Patricio Guzmán's latest part documentary, part spiritual investigation into what makes his homeland what it is.
The first thirty minutes or so of The Pearl Button is an account of what the ocean represents complemented with beautiful imagery of the sea and ice-caps with poetic portrayals of the Andes semi-submerged geography. Although charmingly romantic, a simmering sensation of art-house dread starts to accumulate as the brain begins to wonder whether another hour of this is possible to sit through without cracking open the wine. Luckily however, fascinating interviews with surviving members of the original indigenous Chilean tribes break up the daydream-like ocean fascinations as the movie establishes a structure.
The main turning point of the film is when Guzmán starts to document the arrival of Catholicism and the white Europeans to the country and their utter disregard for the indigenous people. 'Indian hunters' were paid ten shillings for every child's ear they could deliver from the tribes. The shift in focus is intentionally punitive and everything suddenly takes on a much solemner tone. Humanity's beauty and poetry is abruptly pivoted to humanity's cruelty and malice, the extremes visually harmonised to the oceans comparative calm and ferocity.
The title of the movie itself comes from the payment for which Jemmy Button, a native Yámana, received to travel to England as a freak show piece for a British naval captain. The concept of a tribesman travelling to London in the middle of the industrial revolution is so alien in today's world that it's almost impossible to contemplate or truly understand.
Guzmán's narration is almost hypnotic in its delivery and smartly complements both the holistic and the brutality of the story. Although the videography and cinematography are on occasion exquisite, there are times when Guzmán allows himself a little too much creative freedom and deviates into artful whimsy. These moments are relatively short however and manage to just about successfully weave into the documentary as a whole.
The Pearl Button feels like an odd film to sit through at times as you're not sure whether you're watching an art-house documentary about natures beauty or a harrowing critique of humanity's violence, but then that's the point. It leaves you scratching your head but is powerful enough to truly get under the skin.
11 wins & 10 nominations
Adelaide Film Festival • Bergen International Film Festival • Berlin International Film Festival • Biografilm Festival • César Awards, France • Doclisboa International Film Festival • International Cinephile Society Awards • International Online Cinema Awards (INOCA) • Jerusalem Film Festival • London Film Festival • Lumiere Awards, France • Philadelphia Film Festival • Premios Fénix (Fenix Film Awards) • San Sebastián International Film Festival • Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival
El botón de nácar ((original title)) • O Botão de Pérola (Brazil) • Le bouton de nacre (Canada (French title); France) • Der Perlmuttknopf (Germany) • Perlemorsknappen (Denmark) • Το μαργαριταρένιο κουμπί (Greece) • La memoria dell'acqua (Italy) • The Peral Button: Vannets mysterium (Norway) • Perlowy guzik (Poland) • O Botão de Nácar (Portugal)
Atacama Productions (co-production), Valdivia Film (co-production), Mediapro (co-production), France 3 Cinéma (co-production), France Télévisions (participation), Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) (participation), Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes (participation), Ciné+ (participation), Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) (participation), Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) (participation), Generalitat de Catalunya - Departament de Cultura, Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA), Programa Ibermedia, SCAM, Sundance Institute, The
chile, indigenous, water, ocean, space, outer space, political prisoner, quartz, photograph, crystal, garment button, human hunting a human, political violence, political assassination, legend, state violence, disposing of a dead body, dead body washed ashore, throwing a dead body into the sea, cruelty, totalitarian government, pentothal, chilean history, latin american history, impunity, u.s. diplomacy, torture, dictatorship, concentration camp, extinct culture...
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