Patricio Guzman earned his place in cinematic history with The Battle of Chile (1975-'79), a stunning journalistic trilogy about the 1973 military coup that replaced Chile's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, with the dictator Augusto Pinochet. Since then Guzman has returned to the coup years with Chile, Obstinate Memory (1997), The Pinochet Case (2001), and Salvador Allende (2004), but in 2010 he took a break from politics and indulged a lifelong love of astronomy to make a series of shorts about the heavens. These culminated in his majestic essay film Nostalgia for the Light (2011), set in Chile's Atacama Desert; as Guzman notes, its flat, wide-open spaces have made it home to two major observatories, but its sands were also used by the military junta to bury political dissidents. In The Pearl Button, making its Chicago premiere at Gene Siskel Film Center, Guzman shifts his attention to the sea, pondering the country's 4,000-mile coastline and the mysteries of the deep. Some of those mysteries are political: the title comes from a shirt button Guzman found wedged into an iron railing that had been used to dump a political prisoner's body into the ocean. Over the years Guzman has matured from a courageous, incisive reporter into a commanding essayist, bringing to his exquisite imagery the toughness and wisdom of bitter experience.
Fri 11/13-Thu 11/19, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2600, siskelfilmcenter.org, $12.