It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In a film conceived as a companion piece to his acclaimed “Nostalgia for the Light,” veteran Chilean documentarian Patricio Guzmán shifts his attention from his native land’s deserts to the seas that line its spectacularly long coast. For most of its 80-minute length, “The Pearl Button” meditates lyrically on water and its effects on humankind. Then it makes a sharp turn into evoking the horrors of the Pinochet regime, a transition that feels awkward and rather forced, diluting the film’s ultimate impact.
At its outset, Guzmán gives his film a cosmic frame that might remind some viewers of Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life.” Watching giant telescopes that observe the universe from a Chilean desert, the filmmaker, who narrates throughout, notes that water originated in the stars and came to Earth almost as a gift. Now covering most of the planet’s surface, the element is indispensable to human life and perhaps nowhere more visibly important than in Chile, with its 2,600-mile coastline.
Though bearing some of the soothing grandeur of a standard nature documentary, the early sections of “The Pearl Button,” as they descend from the heavens to the seas, are gorgeously filmed and ably support Guzman’s poetic words.
The film also evidences some pleasing visual wit. In discussing Chile’s unusual geography, Guzmán shows students unrolling a large papier-mâché map of the country on a studio floor. Though its width isn’t great, length-wise it goes on and on and on. Guzmán makes the point that it’s hard to conceive of Chile as a whole, due to its unusual shape, which is why people often think of it in three parts: north, center and south.