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  • Turns and Returns, Envois/Renvois:The Postal Effect in Recent Spanish Filmmaking
  • Steven Marsh (bio)

Todas las cartas: Correspondencias fílmicas (The Complete Letters: Filmed Correspondence), an itinerant exhibition and subsequent DVD box set of five video dialogues between pairings of mainly Spanish filmmakers with their overseas colleagues, was a project developed under the auspices of the Barcelona Centro de Cultura Contemporània over three years between 2008 and 2011.1 Capturing the directness of epistolary address, these engagements prove to be what Anna Petrus has felicitously referred to as a kind of “exquisite corpse”: unfolding, incongruent, improvised, and juxtaposed composites.2 Indeed, the term “exquisite corpse” evokes both a sense of a surreptitious relation or return to the surrealist legacy—closely linked to the history of the Catalan avant-garde—and the factor of chance, the unpredictable or the untimely, with its rich implications for both film and philosophy. In this essay I seek to locate such questions in a context of iterability and citationality, of reversibility, and in doing so speculate on the complexities of filmic representation as well as on the consequences of technological change in the production of images.

Organized in the wake of the similar and highly successful Victor Erice and Abbas Kiarostami video installation experiment and [End Page 24] exhibition (featuring the same curators, Jordi Balló and Alain Bergala), these filmed occasions of correspondence have an additional antecedent, Isaki Lacuesta’s 2007 Las variaciones Marker. While not counting on Chris Marker’s direct or active participation, Lacuesta’s essay film begins in prologue—in the form of a written epigraph—with the text of an email from Marker to Lacuesta’s production company, a format that is reproduced verbally, in the citation of other written missives, within the diegesis of the body of the film.3 Furthermore, Marker himself sets a telling precedent with his 1956 documentary Letter from Siberia, a wry, lucid epistle sent out into the world to anonymous receivers in the midst and the mists of the Cold War.4

The Filmed Correspondence project—with all its Baudelairian resonance—points to one of the most interesting recent developments in Spanish cinema: the emergence of a group of young filmmakers whose work is marked by the widening gap between their production and their place of origin. I refer more specifically here to the opening up of the national to dissemination, to the disturbance within the national sign, its division or diversion, or what might be termed the nonarrival of the national letter. This is compounded by the fact that Spain is a country whose cinema history, and writing on it, is distinguished by long-standing and tense debates over questions of national identity. Indeed, it is precisely this kind of collaborative venture that provides the measure of the indifference shown by these filmmakers toward the concept of a national cinema.5 Their dispatches (envois) are those of envoys of a sort but not those of conventional ambassadors. The gap, or the distance inherent in the epistolary format (much played on within film itself in onscreen distanciation techniques, in the complexities of telecommunication, the necessary ellipses), opens up the spaces between origin and place; that is, the gap creates a turbulence surrounding the concept of location and, I will argue, disturbs the national as a discursive category.6 Moreover, postal communication, as Derrida suggests, implies not only a physical separation between two parties in different places connected by an unpredictable system of relay (“switching points,” “the placing of posts,” their stages and their staging, their positioning, and their poles) but also an inevitable temporal disequilibrium, a delay in communication, a necessary asynchronization.7 It is worth noting that the postage seal—the thudding stamp reinforced by a thump on the soundtrack, the indelible impression that marks the design of the box set and each individual DVD menu—draws our attention to these staging posts in the transportation of mail and the fragility of the postal connection, subject to the unpredictable violence of [End Page 25] legal certification—its stamp of approval and its seal of authority—but also to the unforeseen possibilities of being mislaid, subject to delay, division, or diversion (figure 1...


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