4 user 77 critic

The Pearl Button (2015)

El botón de nácar (original title)
Not Rated | | Documentary | 15 October 2015 (Chile)
1:45 | Trailer
Delving into the nearly-religious significance of water, this profound rumination on memory and loss bridges the gap between its mystical origins, Pinochet's coup d'état, and the secret of a mother-of-pearl button at the bottom of the sea.


Patricio Guzmán


Patricio Guzmán (concept)
11 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »



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Credited cast:
Martín Calderón Martín Calderón ... Himself
Cristina Cristina ... Herself
Patricio Guzmán ... Narrator (voice)
Ema Malig Ema Malig ... Herself
Gabriela Paterito Gabriela Paterito ... Herself
Gabriel Salazar Vergara Gabriel Salazar Vergara ... Himself
Raúl Zurita Raúl Zurita ... Himself


The ocean contains the history of all humanity. The sea holds all the voices of the earth and those that come from outer space. Water receives impetus from the stars and transmits it to living creatures. Water, the longest border in Chile, also holds the secret of two mysterious buttons which were found on its ocean floor. Chile, with its 2,670 miles of coastline and the largest archipelago in the world, presents a supernatural landscape. In it are volcanoes, mountains and glaciers. In it are the voices of the Patagonian Indigenous people, the first English sailors and also those of its political prisoners. Some say that water has memory. This film shows that it also has a voice.

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Not Rated | See all certifications »

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France | Spain | Chile | Switzerland



Release Date:

15 October 2015 (Chile) See more »

Also Known As:

Le bouton de nacre See more »

Filming Locations:

Patagonia, Chile See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Color | Black and White (archive footage)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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User Reviews

Beautiful and powerful, if a little whimsical
15 April 2016 | by colinlomasoxSee all my reviews

Water is the source of everything; our lives, our history, it has power, it is capable of sustaining life or destroying it, it holds communication from outer space and it defines our future. It is also the longest border to Chile, contrastingly one of the driest places on earth. These aquatic holistic musings are the basis of Patricio Guzmán's latest part documentary, part spiritual investigation into what makes his homeland what it is.

The first thirty minutes or so of The Pearl Button is an account of what the ocean represents complemented with beautiful imagery of the sea and ice-caps with poetic portrayals of the Andes semi-submerged geography. Although charmingly romantic, a simmering sensation of art-house dread starts to accumulate as the brain begins to wonder whether another hour of this is possible to sit through without cracking open the wine. Luckily however, fascinating interviews with surviving members of the original indigenous Chilean tribes break up the daydream-like ocean fascinations as the movie establishes a structure.

The main turning point of the film is when Guzmán starts to document the arrival of Catholicism and the white Europeans to the country and their utter disregard for the indigenous people. 'Indian hunters' were paid ten shillings for every child's ear they could deliver from the tribes. The shift in focus is intentionally punitive and everything suddenly takes on a much solemner tone. Humanity's beauty and poetry is abruptly pivoted to humanity's cruelty and malice, the extremes visually harmonised to the oceans comparative calm and ferocity.

The title of the movie itself comes from the payment for which Jemmy Button, a native Yámana, received to travel to England as a freak show piece for a British naval captain. The concept of a tribesman travelling to London in the middle of the industrial revolution is so alien in today's world that it's almost impossible to contemplate or truly understand.

Guzmán's narration is almost hypnotic in its delivery and smartly complements both the holistic and the brutality of the story. Although the videography and cinematography are on occasion exquisite, there are times when Guzmán allows himself a little too much creative freedom and deviates into artful whimsy. These moments are relatively short however and manage to just about successfully weave into the documentary as a whole.

The Pearl Button feels like an odd film to sit through at times as you're not sure whether you're watching an art-house documentary about natures beauty or a harrowing critique of humanity's violence, but then that's the point. It leaves you scratching your head but is powerful enough to truly get under the skin.

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