Valentina Rodríguez in Patricio Guzmán’s film Nostalgia for the Light

Subtitles, by Katie Henfrey, from the end of Patricio Guzmán’s film Nostalgia for the Light:

Voice-over narration:
“Valentina works for the leading astronomy organisation in Chile. Her grandfather taught her to observe the sky when she was a child. She is married with two children. In 1975, when she was one year old, she was detained with her grandparents by Pinochet’s police.”

Valentina Rodríguez:
“I am the daughter of detained and disappeared parents. First they detained my grandparents. They were held for several hours. They threatened them relentlessly to make them reveal where my parents were, or else I, too, would disappear. With this threat, my grandparents took them to where we lived. After detaining my parents, they returned me to my grandparents who brought me up.

“Astronomy has somehow helped me to give another dimension to the pain, to the absence, to the loss. Sometimes, when one is alone with that pain, and these moments are necessary, the pain becomes oppressive. I tell myself it’s all part of a cycle which didn’t begin and won’t end with me, nor with my parents, nor with my children. I tell myself we are all part of a current, of an energy, a recyclable matter. Like the stars which must die so that other stars can be born, other planets, a new life. In this context, what happened to my parents and their absence takes on another dimension. It takes on another meaning and frees me a little from this great suffering, as I feel that nothing really comes to an end.

“My grandparents are the happiness in my life. Thanks to them, I’ve been able to write my own story. Not merely from a painful perspective but also a joyful one, optimistic, driven by this strength and the desire to progress. My grandparents were wise realising they had a double responsibility. They found a way to make my parents important reference points for me. They passed on my parents’ values and their strength. What is more, my grandparents were able to overcome their pain so that I could have a happy and healthy childhood.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a product with a manufacturing defect which is invisible. I find it funny when people tell me that it doesn’t show that I’m the daughter of disappeared prisoners. I realise that my children don’t have this defect. Nor does my husband and that makes me happy. I am surrounded by people who have no manufacturing defect. I am happy that my son is growing up like this.”

Voice-over narration:
“Compared to the immensity of the cosmos, the problems of the Chilean people might seem insignificant. But if we laid them out on a table, they would be as vast as a galaxy. Whilst making this film, looking back, I found in these marbles the innocence of the Chile of my childhood. Back then, each of us could carry the entire universe in the depths of our pockets. I am convinced that memory has a gravitational force. It is constantly attracting us. Those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none don’t live anywhere. Each night, slowly, impassively, the centre of the galaxy passes over Santiago.”

Portions of an interview, by Nerina Moris, with the film’s director Patricio Guzmán:

NM: How much of the final version of Nostalgia For The Light matches the original script? For example, Valentina Rodríguez’s testimonial is an essential part of the film but her story was unknown even to her colleagues.[7]

PG: One of the qualities of a documentary filmmaker is the ability to use deductive reasoning. If you film on an island you’ve never been to before, you can still infer many things about the life in this place. I inferred that there had to be more than one person connected with astronomy who had a disappeared relative. Astronomy is a very wide discipline. There are technicians who maintain the optical equipment. There are astronomers, astrophysicists, academics, mathematicians. So I thought that someone had to be affected by this. That’s how Valentina appeared. She didn’t want to let people know about her case, because it was very difficult for her. She had been receiving psychological treatment for quite some time. She was going to talk at the right time, and that time came with the film. It was the same with Gaspar [Galaz]. There had to be an astronomer who could not only talk about mathematics, formulas and technical questions, but who could also tell me that he lives in Chile, a country where people had disappeared. Gaspar was that person. I had interviewed around 12 or 15 astronomers. They were conscious about what had happened but didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t ask. That can be difficult, because the audience notices that you are forcing the subject. The right person has to be found. Nothing that Gaspar says had been discussed with me before, it came from him.

NM: How did you actually find Valentina?

PG: My assistant director located her at the Chilean site of the European Southern Observatory. He heard that there was someone there with a disappeared relative. We started to look for that person and we came across Valentina. We found her because we knew about a case that had been recorded in the Vicarage of Solidarity. We knew about a baby who had been saved by her grandparents, because they had testified. Valentina’s parents belonged to the MIR and their case had been published in a report about torture in Chile. We thought that Valentina could be that person and we wrote to her. She confirmed our guess, but she said that it was a private matter. I went to see her at her home and she told me her story. I filmed the interview with her back to the camera. I constructed a whole sequence without showing her, in case she didn’t want to appear on camera. When she saw the finished film, she immediately agreed to it. Then I threw away that sequence with her back to the camera, which looked like one of those TV interviews with criminals. I don’t like that, but I didn’t have any other alternative until she accepted. With Gaspar it was something similar. We got to him after we interviewed the director of the Chilean Observatory in Santiago. She talked a lot about one of her students called Gaspar and about three or four more. We went to see all of them and Gaspar was the one who seemed more appropriate for the film, because of the way he talks. We arranged to meet up in Las Campanas Observatory. There, he gave me that interview, prior to the actual shooting. I shot this interview with my low definition camera. I also knew about Lautaro [Núñez], that he was the best person who could talk about the mummies as well as the differences and similarities between an astronomer and an archaeologist. He went even further by pointing out that not only do we not know anything about the people who disappeared under Pinochet’s regime, but we don’t know anything about 19th century history in Chile either.

[7] Valentina Rodríguez is an astronomer who works for the European Southern Observatory in Chile. In Guzman’s film, she talks about how her grandparents were detained and threatened to give up the location of her parents. After threatening to hurt Valentina, her grandparents complied and her parents were taken away. She was then brought up by her grandparents, and after studying astronomy she comes to terms with what happened by believing that we, just like the stars, are all part of a cycle in which matter and energy is continuously recycled, but never lost. This idea leaves her strong and optimistic. Guzmán ends the documentary affirming the value of memory because, as he states, “those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moments. Those who have none don’t live anywhere.” – from Guzman, Patricio. Nostalgia for the Light. Documentary. Icarus Films. Retrieved 25 January 2012. (access date 15 December 2012).

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