The intensity of this pandemic jettisoned all my predictions regarding criticism and the way in which cinema is shared. I thought that the big theatres would close and thus, cinema would be reborn, or at least its spirit. I thought that the closure of the multiplex would suspend the star-based reviews in newspapers columns and the tradition of “new release” reviews. I thought that COVID-19 would materialise an old desire to put a pause on our dependence on billboards, but what it did in the end was to extend the territory for the same mechanics and
merchandise, but via streaming or video on demand. I thought that suddenly everything that was available on the Internet was susceptible, at last, to be commented, discussed, remembered, without the burden of the “2 per 1” or the “premium client” offer, even with some 1925 film with Lya de Putti or that wonderful Amy Seimetz of viral anxiety which starts quoting Camus in a Lynchian tone, but ends up as a dry and pessimistic western (with a James Benning cameo included). No, I think none of that happened.
Even though Netflix, online media and Twitter talked about how similar we were to the characters dealing with zombies, pandemics or strange beings which silently dwell by our veins and fibres, I felt more like living in a slacker film, where I didn’t have much to do, except getting my monthly payment as a bureaucrat (I am), sitting in front of a computer more than eight hours a day. And of course, the films, reviews, readings, I followed their eternal routine at night, dawn; some viewings between bureaucratic reports. I mean, the pandemic extended a dynamic that I had sustained for years, like a Jeanne Dielman from Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles of this century, but it was me, Mónica Delgado, avenida Varela 1345, Lima 5, that, instead of setting the table, washing the dishes, cooking the meat and making coffee, was there between the laptop and the bed, in the improvised corner for remote working and the unavoidable gaze through the window to the streets, between reports and daydreaming, between the yellow street cat that visited me and its food in a jar in the pantry, day after day. And of course films, and yes, coffee, always, coffee. I trusted that switching from film theatres to streaming would change that rhythm, but what I ended up having in the end was emails with a hundred links of short, medium and feature films, maybe two hundred. Three online festivals to cover in the same week, three webinars on cinema and pandemics, two interviews on women and film criticism, and at least three pieces to write for a virtual magazine without a “responsive” design, yet.
I must also confess that I devoted myself to leisure, while outside the city moved to a normal rhythm of face masks and anti-bacterial gel, of comings and goings, of trumpet players marching the streets playing “marineras” for some coins, of sellers offering fruit on the street. There I was, watching YouTubers’ shows, watching “El Demente” reactions to La Rosa de Guadalupe (a Latino soap opera) or watching some disturbing Britney Spears videos from her summer house on Instagram. Could I be indifferent to Tik Tok? Even more, in a local public funding contest, a Tik Tok about a widow that dances as a way of mourning and saying goodbye at different angles and poses just won. I had to give myself that opportunity.
The pandemic also ruined my prediction that this year would be glorious for the found footage films in the Peruvian audiovisual field. I imagined a hatching of found footage, of local Santiago Álvarezes, Stephen Broomers or Bruce Conners, of collage with a political potential, of cinema as a weapon to support the activism in social media, or just rethinking these creative forms from the signature of the other in an anti-colonial sense. What I found instead was the affirmation of the film diary, of the intimate register of confinement, of the reserved, scrupulous voiceover talking about what we’re watching in some ‘80s family photos or Super 8 movies from grandpa’s trunk, the pigeon on the skylight, the receipt under the door, the vapor from the kettle, or the shot over the door of the neighbour who hasn’t been out in five days. The intimate gaze has prevailed, the soliloquy, the inside of isolation, maybe the only way of the mirror.
It didn’t feel like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Cronenberg’s Rabid or Soderbergh’s Contagion, but more like a staging of a relation of life and death, which became evidence of real fears and acts. That is why, when the pandemic started, and I was watching Vital Signs by the beautiful Barbara Hammer (made in 1991), I took that as the work that better translated the thanatic atmosphere that overwhelmed me so much. The video on social media of women without masks in a cemetery, dancing to reggaeton as a goodbye in the middle of the coffins of their loved ones who died of asphyxiation at a COVID party, as a way of a funerary ritual, also incited my particular imaginary in this cynical relation, of resistance and rebellion against death, or with death. As in Vital Signs, I was looking at the power of a confrontation, of a satiety, of a complete delivery to the codes of death, to dance with them; as were those images of the Hammer film, of the skeleton being embraced. No longer was death terrifying, it was here, with us, as a virus, or as a vaccine, which does not arrive, like a dace to be fed, put to bed, or tucked in.