Monday 14 June 2021

These women's words: "Correspondence"

The idea of a cinematic correspondence isn't a new one. A short-lived series of documentaries going under the name Correspondences found leading arthouse thinkers swapping letters, images and thoughts in the course of the one movie: 2011's May-to-December pairing of Jonas Mekas and José Luis Guerín was followed, in 2016, by a sequel that made penpals of veterans Victor Erice and Abbas Kiarostami. Available on MUBI from today, the new short Correspondence is entirely its own thing, but it feels like an attempt to revive the format, this time bringing together emergent female directors: the Chilean Dominga Sotomayor, who made 2012's Thursday Till Sunday and 2018's Too Late to Die Young, and the Spaniard Carla Simón, who made one of the most impressive debuts in recent times with 2017's Summer 1993. (I feel compelled to note that these women have been funded to correspond for barely twenty minutes, where their male predecessors got the full ninety.) In a mixture of handscrawled onscreen text and sundappled Super-8 - clearly, now, the sketchpaper of choice for filmmakers everywhere (see Alice Rohrwacher's Four Roads, another recent MUBI acquisition) - Simón breaks the news that she lost her last remaining grandparent over the summer of 2019, and shares recollections of the time she spent with grandma before her death. (The soundtrack buzzes with words that passed between them, often kindly, sometimes taut: a correspondence within a correspondence.) This prompts Sotomayor, who speaks her own narration, into remembering her own grandmother, a filmmaker in her own right. (Extracts from her short films appear as modern as any of the more contemporary footage.) She also considers her relationship with her mother, whom we see appearing in a campaign video for the NO vote that finally overthrew the Pinochet regime in 1988.

That title, then, has a dual meaning. It refers to both those scraps (of paper, film, memory, wisdom) Simón and Sotomayor pass down and along, and the resemblance these women bear to those who came before them. Perhaps inevitably, this raises the question of motherhood, as the filmmakers look back on the women who raised them (there's scant evidence of fathers in the picture; Simón's backstory has clear echoes of Summer 1993), and consider whether they, too, might want to have children - someone who might remember them this fondly some forty or fifty years hence. For now, it seems, they're most closely wedded to their cameras: "Is it possible to make films and have children?," Simón wonders aloud at one point. (A fortysomething filmmaker would doubtless answer that question in the affirmative; but one suspects plenty of directorial offspring would offer their own qualifications and caveats.) At any rate, the idea of correspondence is here reclaimed as a means of extending a hand to the future - a way of working out where you're heading, and allowing the words and thoughts of others to guide you in that pursuit. This Correspondence gets very deep very quickly, although in its final moments, internal communication gets overtaken by external events, Sotomayor training her camera on the civil unrest that broke out in Chile in October 2019, as the country's youth took to the streets in pursuit of their own brighter future. As we know now, a pandemic was lying in wait around the corner for all these correspondents, but I hope Simón and Sotomayor have continued to stay in touch, and that they'll allow us to eavesdrop on them again from time to time.

Correspondence is now streaming via MUBI.

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