Nick Vass’s review published on Letterboxd:
Patricio Guzmán's The Pearl Button uses the significance of water to create a portal on Chile's indigenous history.
That's a notion which allows for a truly poetic and visual clarity.
There's a lot of lyrical wisdom upon his love letter to the waterways. It touches on a highly personal, spiritual and cosmic scale about people who thrive on nature. What's more impressive is how it manages to continue much further than that.
I was astounded with the connective ambitiousness in this documentary. Guzmán exorcises his personal depths to find a bridge amongst the Chilean's who live in the Patagonian archipelagos and a mass genocide that's juxtaposed to political prisoners who were dumped into the sea.
That may have appeared like a far-fetched connection at first. But it's done in a constantly fascinating and educational manner by those who express their nation's history. From the inhabitants who speak Kawésqar and took 600-mile canoe trips between their islands to those who were apart of a military dictatorship. There's one sobering instance in which a re-creation of a dummy has been bagged up and tied to a railroad track. The attempt to find a conduit through a person's strong affiliation to his subject is what gives The Pearl Button a strong crux.
It's also breathtaking on a visual spectrum. From a series of overlapping shot compositions of trickling water to vast oceanic landscapes are stunning. Or the more universal segments where infinite shots of the galaxy are placed amongst the Chilean's own connection to the stars above. Guzmán uses the medium to find an array of storytelling modes—even in his narration, which calmly soothes the senses.
There's a stream-of-consciousness to his film that offers a geographical, historical and universal approach about people who wish to understand the heritage of their nation. If these connections hadn't already sufficed, he makes another upon the titular pearl button—a Yagan teen named Jemmy Button who was sold to British colonists and shipped off to England. Within his trade to a mother-of-pearl button (hence his surname), an entire history is formed upon Chile that cleverly connects a vivid reality.
Now that's an examination of metaphor.
I thought the film was simply wonderful. It's a crystallizing beauty about the possibilities of cinema. Now educate it those who are unfamiliar with the past.