Nostalgia of the Light – An Analysis

Watching a small clip from Guzmann’s Nostalgia for the Light (2010), the most captivating moment for me was when the black and white contrasted images of the craters on the moon fades to a black and white kaleidoscope of the shadows of the leaves on the kitchen window. It was at this point that I properly understood the power of visual juxtaposition in this piece.

Nostalgia for the Light relies very heavily on montaging juxtaposed clips with a voice-over narrative. The images are composed with superior cinematography in mind, and are mostly of still subjects, with hints of movement only available when there is actual movement of the subjects in the background, such as shifting of the light and shadows, or the leaves on a tree swaying in the wind. This adds a stillness to the aesthetic of the film, because while the cuts are not long, they are not rapid or dynamic either. The framing is extremely intimate, with close to extreme closeups of the inanimate subjects. The lighting on these subjects (which are all either everyday homely items, or astronomy instruments) are very warm, and even though sometimes there are strong shadows, they are never rendered alienated or intimidating. The colors are also very vibrant and saturated. This is contrasted very strikingly with the highly stark and monochrome images of the moon at the beginning of the clip.

The audio is extremely minimalistic, with the focal sound being the narration, or when there is no narration, diegetic foreground noises – eg the grinding of the gears on the telescope; the squeaking of the hatch opening on the roof. Furthermore, in ground sound, there is the sound of nature, to complement the environment of the frame during the montage of household items. These
nature sounds included the chirping of birds and some light breeze noises, and may or may not be diegetic, but is more likely to be mixed in during post-production.

Narratively speaking, it was a little confusing when trying to understand the contents of the narration in relation with the visual. Logically speaking, there is little correlation between what the narrator is talking about (Chile, astronomy and social revolution) and the images that we are shown (household items such as furniture, pictures on the wall etc). It isn’t until the location of the montage moves onto the dusty remains of the observatory that I can begin to form a more coherent correlation between the visual and the audio. Alternatively, it is possible that the visual media and the audio isn’t meant to have an immediate correlation, but exist to complement the tone of the other – that is, the intimate and comfortable visuals complement the reminiscent nature of the narration, and the calm slow tones of the speaker complements the softness of the images.

One other interesting moment is when specks of light and dust becomes super imposed onto a shot of a tree blowing in the wind. The colorful image (blue, yellow and green) starts fading into a almost monochromatic and impossibly detailed shot of specks of dust and bokeh floating in the air. This leads me to think that the dust and bokeh were treated with special effects. It is also a
beautiful transition from the urban setting of the house to the more foreign settings of the observatory. In a clip that is heavy on cuts between changing visuals, changing physical location using a fade seems to be a conscious effort to minimize a jarring transition from home-life to astronomy.

Nostalgia for the Light contains many layers of deeper and inferred meaning, drawn from both aesthetics and content. It beautifully incorporates photographic cinematography and slow camera movements to create a sense of calm and stillness, and mixes this visual with a continuous but non-discordant audio narrative and other background audio materials, both diegetic and non-diegetic
to the visuals.

Revisiting a few thoughts

(I haven’t written properly in a long time. So here goes something pretty impromptu.)

She tried to block the sounds out, but the words still formed meaning in her mind. She was bombarded with searing images of failure, of dissatisfaction and felt the unmistakable aftertaste of having brought great shame upon herself and those around her.

She studied her mug carefully. She traced the letters on theΒ  mug for the twentieth time, willing herself not to say or do anything.

But she imagined it. She imagined the feeling in her arms as she smashed the mug down on her face. Skull. Whatever could break many bones. Then maybe the mug would shatter, and she’d have something sharp to play with.

And she could imagine the initial shock on her face. Shock that her own daughter could hurt her. And perhaps shock at finally realizing that she’d lost her daughter for a long time.

She continued studying her mug. The small bumps of Homer Simpson’s speech bubble barely registered under her fingertips. And still the bombardment of shame and guilt attacked her ears. She didn’t even need to listen to what her mother was saying; it was the old spiel, the familiar speech of failure.

She became aware of how close she was to completely changing her life. In one swift movement and moment, her mother could be unconscious and dying on the floor, and she would stand over the bleeding body. Would she smile at the much delayed release? Or would she feel horror at what she’d done? If it was horror, it wouldn’t be that she hurt her mother, but that there would be lawful consequences.

She started planning what she’d do. After mashing her mother’s head in (she’d use the tile floor if she had to) she’d run downstairs. Her dad wouldn’t be home yet, so she’d have to tap out some sort of message to her friends, to the people that actually matter to her. She’d detail in that message how sorry she was it had to be like this, and that no one should be put to blame but her. She’d detail that her actions were solely by the influence of her mother.

She’d say goodbye, because she wouldn’t want to remain to allow her mother the pleasure of media attention. And surely there will be; a daughter doesn’t kill a mother often, and the news will be all over it. She doesn’t want her mother to be able to plead with her simpering ugly face that her own flesh and blood and turned against her, and she didn’t want to be portrayed as the bad guy. She wasn’t the bad guy.

Then she’d run back upstairs. She has to be quick. If her mother’s still alive then she would dial OOO. So she has to be fast.

She’d open the top drawer in the kitchen. There was one in there that her dad always kept sharp for cutting meat. In fact, she’d recently been nagging her dad to keep it sharp.

She’d planned it. She’d even envisioned it in her mind a million times.

It would hurt yes, but the satisfaction would be anaesthetic enough.

And then she put down her mug, stood up, and walked away. She went downstairs, calmly opened a new email, and sat there and wrote all of the things that ran through her mind to her friend. She cried while doing it, but she didn’t stop typing until she was done. Then she hit send, and with it buried away the feeling of being utterly trapped. It will come back again, but until then she can just keep sending it out.

Alex.