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Abstract

The poetic aesthetic of Patricio Guzman’s documentary Nostalgia for the Light (2010) ponders the nature of memory and history. The film uses a metaphysical approach to explore the traumatic past of Chile, creating a sense of historical redemption as defined by Walter Benjamin (1940). Contemporary Latin American documentaries have abandoned the idea of objectivity to focus on subjective portrayals of memory as a way to capture the plurality of personal experiences of historical events. As a result, these documentaries have become more artistic and formally innovative than the previous epic informative films of the region. In the case of Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light, this new articulation of memory draws from the tradition of “transcendental style” as theorized by Paul Schrader as a result of the evolution of documentaries in Latin America. I analyze the redemptive potential of the film’s aesthetics to portray political events and ponder about the potential of “transcendental style” in the documentary mode. I suggest that this approach facilitates a reflection about memory, history, and political trauma in the Chilean context, echoing the heritage of liberation theology as a way to make sense of political oppression through spirituality in Latin America.