Tag Archives: immigration

Expanding Views on Emigration: Economy, Travel and Windows in 2 francos, 40 pesetas

A radio crackles.  An announcer informs us that the oil crisis is destroying the Spanish tourist industry, that there are now around 900,000 Spaniards out of work and that Franco, aged 81, is critically ill in hospital.  Accompanying the initial credits, this brief soundbite succinctly situates the narrative action of 2 francos, 40 pesetas (the sequel to Un franco, 14 pesetas, which I discussed in an earlier post on this blog) within a far-from-perfect mid-1970s Spain.  Fourteen years have passed since we first encountered Martín (Carlos Iglesias), his wife Pilar (Nieve de Medina) and their friends Marcos (Javier Gutiérrez) and Mari Carmen (Ángela del Salto).  The sequel hinges upon the desire of Martín and his now grown-up son Pablo (Adrián Exposito) to return to Uzwil, Switzerland.  While Pablo sets off on his travels with his friend Juan (Luisber Santiago), Martín and Pilar make the return journey in order to attend the baptism of Marcos and Mari Carmen’s daughter.  Though light-hearted in character, 2 francos, 40 pesetas sheds light upon a historical migratory pattern typically neglected in Spanish cinematic production as well as providing an acerbic commentary on contemporary migratory flows.  In this post, I consider the depiction of the economic dimension of migration, the representation of travel and the symbol of the window in 2 francos, 40 pesetas.  This is very much an initial response to the film and given that I hope to work on this film in future research, I would very much appreciate any thoughts, comments or feedback you might have.

Figure 1: Ornate Objects
Figure 1: Ornate Objects
As the title indicates, money and economic status play a key role in 2 francos, 40 pesetas.  The opening sequence situates Martín within a lavish home, having a discussion with the maid about his son Pablo and whether or not he should be allowed entry.  We might initially think that this domestic space, adorned with ornate picture frames and furniture (Figure 1), belongs to Martín, that his decision to remain in Spain has paid off (literally).  However, from the discussion between the two characters, we quickly discern that this house belongs to someone else and that Martín is simply conducting odd-jobs there for additional income.  What this brief scene denotes is the economic gulf between the owner of such a residence – Doña Antoñita, a right-wing singer who complains about being surrounded by ‘rojos’ (‘Reds’) – and Martín, whose sparse home provides the setting for the following scene (Figure 2).  The financial fissure between these two characters is evident not just in the fact that Martín is working for Doña Antoñita, but also in their distinct domestic settings.  While the home of Doña Antoñita displays her material wealth through an abundance of ornate objects, that of Martín and his family is sparse by comparison.  The film’s focus on the economic dimension of migratory patterns is not only relevant to the historical context within which the film is set, but also comments on one of the most important push factors for migration in contemporary society.  In the context of contemporary Spain, economic gain provides the motivation both for those migrating to Spain and for those leaving Spain in search of work, a migratory flow exacerbated by the current economic climate and the subject of several recent Spanish films.  (For a more detailed commentary on this migratory development and its visual representations see here).

Figure 2: Domesticity Devoid of Clutter
Figure 2: Domesticity Devoid of Clutter

Figure 3: First-Class Cabin
Figure 3: Trains …
The film’s meditation on the economic dimension of migratory flows is apparent too in its depiction of travel and transport.  As in Un franco, 14 pesetas, vehicles constitute a key visual motif of 2 francos, 40 pesetas.  However, while the former concentrates primarily on the train as a means of transportation, 2 francos, 40 pesetas broadens its vehicular focus, including sequences on trains, planes and automobiles.  Just as trains transported Martín and Marcos across Europe, from Spain to Switzerland, in Un franco, 14 pesetas, trains provide the initial form of transportation for Pablo and Juan (Figure 3).  The economic disparity between father and son emerges through their distinct experiences of train travel.  While Martín and Marcos shared their compartments with various other travellers, Pablo and Juan enjoy a first-class cabin to themselves, albeit thanks to the kindness of a station attendant who did not want them sleeping in the waiting room.  Emphasising the generational gap in terms of attitudes towards money, Juan drops something in the cabin and remarks ‘Son 2 francos’ (‘Just 2 francs’).  The more astute Pablo replies ‘2 francos son 40 pesetas’ (‘2 francs are worth 40 pesetas’).  The relationship between travel and wealth becomes more apparent when Martín and Pilar make their way to Switzerland by aeroplane rather than by train (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Air Travel
Figure 4: … Planes …
The experience is presented as novel to the protagonists, evidenced by their amazement at the meals they receive on board and the views of the mountains they witness.  A third method of border crossing occurs through the pairing of Luisa, Martín’s sister and Pablo’s aunt (Eloísa Vargas), and Arturo, a banker (Roberto Álvarez), who drive from Spain to Switzerland (Figure 5).  This crossing is also economically motivated, as Arturo needs to deposit funds in a Swiss bank, an act later criticised by Martín, Marcos and their friends and thwarted by Luisa, who manages to swipe the cash from under Arturo’s nose.  (That her suitcase at once provides the site of concealment for the money as well as the ruse for her keeping it produces a neat twist on the symbol of the suitcase in films centred on migration; see Hamid Naficy An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (109, 257, 261-4) for more on this).  Underscoring the economic aspect of migration and border crossing, 2 francos, 40 pesetas attends to an element of migratory flows often neglected in accounts of such experiences.

Figure 5: ... and Automobiles
Figure 5: … and Automobiles
Alongside the economic dimension of migration, the diversity of migratory patterns constitutes another key element of 2 francos, 40 pesetas.  An early example of this occurs when Mari Carmen goes into labour and is attended by a Spanish-speaking black doctor from Equatorial Guinea.  While the racist reactions of Mari Carmen and Marcos make for uncomfortable viewing (as does Marcos’ joke that ‘Si es que aquí, con estos tan altos y tan rubios, todos somos un poco negros’ (‘With so many tall blondes around, we’re all a little black’)), the inclusion of this character speaks to alternative patterns of migration not typically addressed in Spanish cultural production.  The host of individuals with whom Pablo and Juan become involved function in a similar manner; consider, for example, Rita (Anahí Beholi), the Swiss Columbian who laments the fact that people are afraid of her skin colour.  Moreover, a frank discussion amongst the male characters towards the end of the film reveals attitudes towards internal migration in Spain.  Rafa, a friend of Martín and Marcos, speaks of the fact that he has nowhere to go, that his family in Spain have returned to Cordoba and he has no desire to return to his pueblo (‘hometown’).  Martín is surprised as he thought Rafa was from Catalonia.  ‘Catalán dice… Charnego que es’ (‘Catalonian?  He’s a Spaniard living in Catalonia’) remarks Marcos, indexing a further historical migratory pattern prevalent under Franco in Spain.  In this way, the film opens up alternative avenues in terms of the representation of migration, both in historical and contemporary contexts.

Figure 6: A Hopeful Gaze
Figure 6: A Hopeful Gaze
One of the ways in which the film formally registers this opening onto alternative avenues connected to migration is through a visual emphasis on the window.  As I discussed in my response to Un franco, 14 pesetas, the window underscores the liminality of the film’s protagonists, revealing their position as outsiders looking in on a society of which they are, at least initially, not a part.  The visual focus on the window continues in 2 francos, 40 pesetas.  As Juan and Pablo undertake their journey to Switzerland, the camera frames them in front of the window of their first-class cabin (see Figure 3 above), before a cut positions the camera outside the train carriage looking in, revealing a hopeful Pablo gazing out the window (Figure 6). The train carriage window furthermore provides a metacinematic frame-within-the-frame for the passing landscape (Figure 7), highlighting the tension between motion and stasis that characterises train travel.  Windows allow individuals to look out (Figure 8) as well as in (Figure 9).  They can be open or closed (Figure 10).  As I mentioned in my earlier post, the window is a symbol that lends itself to multiple readings.  Here, however, what prevails is the metonymic significance of the window as a divisive and yet permeable entity, much like the border.

Figure 7: Passing Landscapes
Figure 7: Passing Landscapes

Figure 8: Looking Out
Figure 8: Looking Out

Figure 9: Looking In
Figure 9: Looking In

Figure 10: Open and Closed
Figure 10: Open and Closed
To summarise, 2 francos, 40 pesetas, in many ways, picks up where its precursor, Un franco, 14 pesetas, left off, representing a facet of Francoist history – the emigration of Spaniards to other European countries in the latter years of the Francoist period – often neglected in contemporary cultural production.  However, the engagement with return migration in 2 francos, 40 pesetas indicates an awareness of this phenomenon in the contemporary context as well as in relation to the migratory flows of the past, a trend becoming more significant as Spanish society negotiates the current economic crisis.

Immigrants, Emigrants and Exiles: Un franco, 14 pesetas

As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere on this blog (see here and here), part of my PhD thesis focuses on the representation of immigrants and immigration in contemporary Spanish cinema.  A crucial counterpoint to this figure is the Spanish exile or emigrant, a figure relatively neglected in contemporary scholarship on Spanish migratory cinema.  In this context, Spanish exiles and emigrants are of both historical and contemporary relevance.  As an example, Biutiful (Iñárritu, 2010), which I analyse in my thesis, juxtaposes the Spaniard exiled from Francoist Spain with contemporary immigrants.[i]  The father of protagonist Uxbal, who appears as a ghost in the film, indexes historical patterns of migration that predate Spain’s contemporary status as a host country. Such patterns are often overlooked in discussions of the contemporary phenomenon of immigration to Spain.

While Biutiful proffers a somewhat gritty portrait of the harsh realities of immigration, emigration and exile, the subject of this post – Un franco, 14 pesetas (Iglesias, 2006) – provides a more light-hearted depiction of these issues.  Unlike Biutiful, which straddles two temporal moments, Un franco, 14 pesetas focuses solely on Spanish emigrants in the context of Francoist Spain.  The film is one of several in director Iglesias’ filmography that deals with the theme of emigration from Francoist Spain: Ispansi (2010) is set during the Second World War and concerns the transportation of Spaniards out of Spain at this time, while 2 francos, 40 pesetas (2014) is the sequel to Un franco, 14 pesetas.

Set in Madrid in 1960, Un franco, 14 pesetas narrates the story of Martín, a middle-aged Spaniard living in his parents’ basement with his wife Pilar and their son Pablo.  Surplus to requirements at his place of work, Martín loses his job.  When Martín’s friend Marcos suggests they emigrate to Switzerland in search of work, Pilar – who is desperate for her family to have a home of their own – encourages him to do so.  The film recounts the trials and tribulations of Martín and Marcos as they travel to Switzerland in search of a better future for them and their families.  Focused on the bromance between Martín and Marcos, Un franco, 14 pesetas is thus a road movie of sorts, set in the historical context of Spanish emigration.

While Un franco, 14 pesetas is not without its problems – it is, at least in some ways, akin to the nostalgic revisioning of the past as seen in films such as Belle époque and La lengua de las mariposas – the visual vocabulary deployed in the film resonates not only with other Spanish films that deal with immigration, emigration and exile, but, also beyond the Spanish context, with diasporic or ‘accented’ cinema, to use Hamid Naficy’s term, and with the Hollywood road movie.  The most obvious motif in this regard is vehicles and transportation.  For Naficy, the vehicle constitutes one of several ‘important transitional and transnational places and spaces’ in accented works.[ii]  He considers vehicles ‘privileged sites’ in terms of ‘journeys of and struggles over identity’, given that makers of accented cinema ‘engage in many deterritorializing and reterritorializing journeys […] including home-seeking journeys, journeys of homelessness, and homecoming journeys’.[iii]

In Un franco, 14 pesetas, the protagonists travel by train from Spain to Switzerland.  A frantic sequence on the platform of the railway station shows the emotional farewells of Martín and Marcos to their respective loved ones, before the film depicts in considerable detail their transit across Europe.  They are shown sleeping in their compartment alongside several other men when officials enter and demand identification from all the passengers (Figure 1).  Martín is depicted contemplating the passing landscape from the window of the train (Figure 2).  They are shown befriending another Spaniard who shares his chorizo with them (Figure 3).  The use of dissolves to transition between images (Figure 4) echoes both the passing of time and the passing landscapes, visible from the train carriage window.

Asleep on the train (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 1: Sleeping (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 2: Contemplating the view (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 2: Contemplating the view (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 3: Sharing chorizo (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 3: Sharing chorizo (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 4: Passing time/space (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 4: Passing time/space (Un franco, 14 pesetas)

The aforementioned bromance between Martín and Marcos is another trope that links Un franco, 14 pesetas to cinematic works of migration, movement and mobility.  Indeed, the film resonates, in some ways, with the Hollywood road movie, so many of which are, as Julian Stringer observes, ‘same-sex buddy films’.[iv]  Having arrived in Switzerland, Martín and Marcos initially share a hotel room.  The film emphasises their blossoming bromance by frequently depicting them in their adjoining beds (Figure 5).  At one point, they even snuggle closer together so as to keep warm in Switzerland’s frosty climate, to which they are unaccustomed (Figure 6).  When Marcos is invited to spend Christmas with one of the Swiss girls they have befriended, leaving Martín alone, their reunion is depicted as a pseudo-romantic encounter.  Marcos hurls snowballs at the window of Martín’s hotel room, leading to the resolution of their earlier conflict.  Reminiscent of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, Martín appears at the window (Figure 7), addressed by Marcos below (Figure 8), as the pair resolve their differences.

Figure 5: Adjoining beds (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 5: Adjoining beds (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 6: Snuggling (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 6: Snuggling (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 7: At the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 7: At the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 8: Below the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 8: Below the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)

The window constitutes a key visual motif in Un franco, 14 pesetas.  The characters are frequently framed by windows within the filmic frame, as in Figures 2 and 7 above.  This gesture carries several symbolic resonances.  While many of Naficy’s examples describe scenes that feature windows, he does not expand upon the potential symbolic significance of this icon.[v]  Here, the window functions as a reminder of these characters’ liminality, evidencing their status as outsiders looking in on a society of which they are, at least initially, not a part.  This sentiment applies not just to their status in Swiss society but also in Spanish society upon their return to Madrid, a sentiment echoed by Marcos’ wife Maricarmen who declares, towards the end of the film, that ‘Ya no somos de ninguna parte’ (‘We are now from nowhere’).

The window as a visual symbol is something I’m only just beginning to think through in my research.  Having recently completed my doctoral thesis, I am beginning to work on a post-doctoral project that examines the concepts of (in)visibility and (dis)location in visual representations of Ceuta, Melilla and Gibraltar.  In the very early research I’ve conducted for this project, I’ve noticed that the symbol of the window is visually significant within these contentious border sites, a figure for the physical flimsiness of the border and a counterpoint to the lack of transparency at work within such liminal border spaces.  A case in point is the Telecinco television series El Príncipe (Figure 9).  Any thoughts on this would be very much appreciated, so please feel free to comment below.

Figure 9: Moray at the window (El Principe)
Figure 9: Moray at the window (El Principe)

To conclude, while Un franco, 14 pesetas is perhaps not the most imaginative or visually striking depiction of Spanish emigration, the film engages with other works pertinent to this topic through its network of visual symbols, such as train travel and windows, as well as through narrative tropes, such as the bromance or buddy relationship often at the core of the road movie.  I hope to post on Iglesias’ other works in the near future as his work is exemplary of the cinematic swing towards migratory patterns away from Spain.  While immigration from other countries to Spain represents one of the most dominant political themes of Spanish cinematic production from the 1990s until the early 2010s, the current economic crisis and its provocation of a shift in migratory patterns have diminished the prevalence and significance of this topic in the context of the most contemporary releases of Spanish cinema.  A quick glance at the subject matter of recent works reveals that Spanish cinema is turning its attention to another crucial migratory flow relevant to contemporary Spain: the rising number of individuals leaving Spain, whether these are immigrants returning home due to the lack of opportunities resulting from the aforementioned economic crisis, or Spanish professionals unable to find employment in their own country.  This trend is inspiring filmmakers across diverse genres.  Recent releases include: Perdiendo el norte (Velilla, 2015), a comedy which focuses on two young men with degrees who cannot find work in Spain and so emigrate to Germany; En tierra extraña (Bollaín, 2014), a documentary which follows young Spaniards abroad in search of a better future and El rayo (Araújo, 2013), a road movie which follows Hassan, a Moroccan immigrant who, unable to find work, decides to return home after thirteen years in Spain.  What this emerging cinematic trend reveals is the need for further examination of the migratory dynamics explored in contemporary cultural production in Spain, an example of which is Iglesias’ filmography.

Notes

[i] Biutiful also engages with the dynamics of internal migration.  Protagonist Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a xarnego/charnego, a term used in Catalonia to refer to migrants from other areas of Spain.  Director Iñárritu discusses this aspect of the film in the notes accompanying the film at the Cannes Film Festival, available here.

[ii] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 4-5.

[iii] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 5-6.

[iv] Stringer, Julian. “Exposing Intimacy in Russ Meyer’s Motorpsycho! and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!The Road Movie Book. Eds. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark. London; New York: Routledge, 1997. 165-178, 172.

[v] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 48, 116, 144, 165, 177, 180, 198, 203, 231, 235.

Discussing Cinematic Representations of Violence in Hispanic Contexts

This discussion between myself and Niamh Thornton took place through Skype instant messages on Friday 7th February.  Our aim with this conversation was to expand on our previous blog posts.

[09:42:41] Niamh: In your blog I was really interested in the shared use of the media as a motif. In Pacific Rim TV news is used as a form of commentary and economical mode of storytelling. In Bordertown and the Virgin of Juarez the female protagonists are both journalists.

[09:45:12] Fiona Noble: It’s really striking that this is a feature shared by the films we are both working on – and I don’t think that this is exclusive to these films.

[09:45:43] Niamh: Do you think that it’s about telling stories about disenfranchised others in the films you are writing about?

[09:46:14] Fiona Noble: I can think of other examples in the Spanish context which include media reporting/representation as a visual motif – Las cartas de Alou springs immediately to mind but there are many others.

[09:47:29] Fiona Noble: Yes, I think on the one hand there is as you say the need to tell the other’s story.

[09:47:38] Niamh: In films and literature about Juarez it is a repeated trope. Frequently, they are journalists from outside (US, Spain, UK…).

[09:48:23] Fiona Noble: So, it is the external other who tells the story, who has the voice?

[09:48:54] Niamh: Yes, and the power to go above the local strictures.

[09:49:42] Fiona Noble: I think this provides a point of contrast then between the films/contexts we are working with – it is usually the Spanish characters who are journalists in the films I’m working on.

[09:49:58] Niamh: There is an important Mexican female journalist character (likely based on a real individual) in Bordertown who provides valuable information. But, the film is still focused on an Other as victim.

[09:50:43] Fiona Noble: Ilegal is the perfect example of this – protagonists Luis and Sofia are a journalist and private inspector, respectively.  The plot places them in a position similar to that of an illegal immigrant, and so seems to expect us to empathise.

[09:51:28] Niamh: Is the assumption that we wouldn’t empathise if we followed the story of one of migrants?

[09:51:55] Fiona Noble: It seems that way – at least that is how the film has been read by others (i.e. Santiago Fouz Hernandez).

[09:52:36] Niamh: There are films that do take that position, though. Is that not the case?

[09:52:57] Fiona Noble: A more empathetic/sympathetic portrait of immigrant experience, you mean?

[09:53:12] Niamh: A more subjective one

[09:53:32] Fiona Noble: Yes, I think that’s what I was trying to map out in my original post.

[09:54:03] Fiona Noble: Ilegal is now ten years old – the more recent Retorno a Hansala seems to gesture towards a more subjective representation of immigrant experience.

[09:54:35] Niamh: Do you think that this trope of outsider experiencing/witnessing these events is successful?

[09:55:01] Fiona Noble: I think it can be.

[09:55:24] Fiona Noble: In the Spanish case, most films about immigrants/immigration are not made by those who have direct experience of this phenomenon (Santiago Zannou is the only director I know of who is a second-generation Spaniard, whose parents were African immigrants). So, I think to have this outsider framework can show a certain degree of respect for the distance between director/production team and topic.

[09:56:39] Niamh: Necessarily?

[09:56:54] Fiona Noble: That said, I think it can also be an extremely risky strategy – as in Ilegal where the immigrants are mere secondary characters, barely glimpsed in the background, while the Spanish protagonists take centre stage. What are your thoughts on this?  How does it play out in the films you are working on?

[10:01:45] Niamh: I agree. That is often the case with Juarez. In the films on Juarez the victims are often multiply marked as others: working class, indigenous, country girls vs urban, cosmopolitan, middle class journalists. Also, the victims are to be read as “good” victims i.e. religious (sometimes to the point of superstition), virginal and innocent. They have none of the messiness of “bad” behaviour of real life. How does that play in terms of the immigrants you consider?

[10:06:32] Fiona Noble: It varies.  In Ilegal we are offered next to no information about the immigrants who are the victims of persecution/ill treatment/death. They are illegal immigrants who are smuggled into the country. This is all we know. Retorno takes a slightly different approach: it begins with an unidentified illegal immigrant drowning. The film then follows legal Moroccan immigrant Leila and her attempt to come to terms with the death of her brother Rachid while attempting to make the crossing to Spain from Morocco.

[10:08:51] Niamh: In both films about Juarez the women survive being left for dead and arise from the grave in ways that are reminiscent of horror films.

[10:09:59] Fiona Noble: And, is it indicated that their “good” characters has something to do with their survival?  Is this a sort of triumph over evil?

[10:11:26] Niamh: It does appear to be. They are deserving of re-birth/second chance. But, their “goodness” and naïveté means that they must be protected by these stronger US women.

[10:12:13] Fiona Noble: So, we’re back into the hegemonic conceptualisations of self/other that we spoke about before.

[10:12:30] Niamh: Yes, no doubt. I suppose, now the question arises whether we are comparing like with like? Is there something unique about the migrant story and its tropes and can we talk about violence and its ethics alongside films about other themes? That being said, the border looms large in the Juarez film and there is some crossing of it by the privileged journalist and the victims. This might take us back to thinking about violence and how we write about its representation on screen. Can we have common strategies when writing about violence?

[10:16:08] Fiona Noble: I think this is an excellent point – one of the things I’ve been thinking about in response to our dialogue has been about the cultural specificity of violence. In your post you talked about having to make ‘multidisciplinary borrowings’, and, I wonder, to what extent we can compare the films/contexts we are working on?

[10:18:33] Niamh: Considerably, it would seem. But, also, it’s necessary to return to context and specifics.

[10:19:43] Fiona Noble: It certainly seems that our films share a similar visual grammar.

[10:20:39] Niamh: Yes. It can be useful to have tools from other contexts to use. Do you think that Spanish filmmakers pay much attention to the Mexican-US border narrative?

[10:21:33] Fiona Noble: That’s a really interesting point.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any specific examples where other border discourses come into play in Spanish films about immigrants/immigration.

[10:22:18] Niamh: I suppose it’s difficult to tell unless a filmmaker expressly lays claims to influences.

[10:22:41] Fiona Noble: I guess.  The example that springs to mind is Inarritu’s Biutiful.

[10:23:15] Fiona Noble: This film does situate contemporary immigration in Spain within a wider, global context. Although the link to Mexico is more historical than current – indexing Republican exile to Mexico in Spanish Civil War through Uxbal’s father.

[10:24:25] Niamh: Yes. There is that film which has 3 stories: one in Mexico-US, the other in Cuba and the third in Morocco. I can’t remember the name.

[10:24:39] Fiona Noble: Babel?

[10:25:27] Niamh: No. But that is an interesting example of the wider context and linked global experiences

[10:26:05] Fiona Noble: I’m not sure of the one you mean.

[10:26:28] Fiona Noble: But, it sounds like it would be an interesting one for both of us.

[10:27:29] Niamh: Just found it online, Al otro lado. Yes, because one of the stories is about a child going from Morocco to Spain. All of the migrants are young children and therefore necessarily sympathetic.

[10:28:05] Fiona Noble: Title sounds familiar – will check it out. I wonder if there’s a distinction to be made when events are based largely/primarily on fictional narratives (Pacific Rim) and when they are based on real events (such as the Juarez films).  How does the treatment of violence differ in these contexts? You did talk about this in your post, but I wondered if we should elaborate on this.

[10:29:16] Niamh: It’s interesting because the distinction is about intention, but not necessarily about visual grammar. For example, Pacific Rim is very deliberately about spectacle in a way that would be tasteless if it were about a real event.

The violence inflicted on the women in Bordertown, for example, is ridiculous, because it seems that the director fails in making it convincing although his intention is to be sensitive. In the key attempted murder scene the woman is being strangled by a man who is raping her. He has his face contorted in ways that are exaggeratedly grotesque, while her face is acting “real” anguish. The problem is that a woman’s body on screen is always already objectified, so in an attempt to avoid this we are shown the violence either in long shot or the camera lingers on her pained and tearful face, and his grotesque expression, but the contrast between their performative styles in this one is jarring. Consequently, for me, it is unsuccessful.

[10:36:07] Fiona Noble: Which brings us back to the points you made at the beginning of your original post – about the difficulty of representing/writing about onscreen violence. That is, in spite of its prevalence.

[10:37:27] Niamh: Yes. Do we have new conclusions from today’s discussion, I wonder?

[10:37:45] Fiona Noble: Or more questions?

[10:38:15] Fiona Noble: I think we have ascertained that the films we are working on, in spite of their distinct production contexts/subject matters, share a certain visual grammar.

[10:38:18] Niamh: Which can be more productive in ways…

[10:38:28] Fiona Noble: Absolutely.

[10:38:57] Niamh: This is true. Also, we are still convinced that multiple tools are required to analyse these. Context can never be forgotten, but should not limit comparisons.

[10:39:41] Fiona Noble: I agree. And, we’ve also talked about the relationship between subjectivity and mass media across the distinct contexts, and the various possibilities/problems that this framework offers.

[10:40:39] Niamh: All worthwhile. It’s been good chatting about this. I certainly find it useful to know the commonalities and differences.

[10:42:51] Fiona Noble: I completely agree. Much definitely remains to be said not only about the complexities of representing violence onscreen, but also about scholarly approaches to the topic. The fodder of future blog posts and Twitter exchanges, I’m sure.

The Death of the Immigrant in Spanish Cinema

As I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, one of the chapters of my PhD thesis considers the representation of the immigrant in contemporary Spanish cinema, with particular emphasis on the theme of death.  The prevalence of death in Spanish films that take immigration as their focus of course represents a particular reality: specifically the very real threat of death faced daily by immigrants, whether in transit, due to poor living and working conditions, or because of xenophobic violence.  In the context of Spanish cinema, these issues have been diversely represented in films such as 14 Kilómetros/14 Kilometres (Gerardo Olivares, 2007), Malas temporadas/Hard Times (Manuel Martín Cuenca, 2005), Las cartas de Alou/Alou’s Letters (Montxo Armendáriz, 1990), Bwana (Imanol Uribe, 1996), Taxi (Carlos Saura, 1995), and Salvajes/Savages (Carlos Molinero, 2001).  Beyond this significance, my investigation of the intersection of immigration and death in contemporary Spanish cinema is conceptually motivated, addressing both the aesthetics and ethics of the cinematic representation of the death of the immigrant other.  In this post, inspired by Niamh Thornton’s recent meditation on the ethics of the use of war photography in fiction film, I consider the aesthetic and ethical implications of the representation of the death of the immigrant in two films: Ilegal/Illegal (Ignacio Vilar, 2003) and Retorno a Hansala/Return to Hansala (Chus Gutiérrez, 2008).

At the crux of this constellation of ideas – immigration, death, and cinema – is the notion of visibility, of making visible.  As phenomena that prove problematic at the level of rendering visible, how are immigration and death represented by cinema, a predominantly visual medium?  How do immigration and death intersect on screen?  How are they made (in)visible?  Recent theoretical interventions related to this topic include Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of a ‘subjectivity of the dying’ (Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity 173), and Emma Wilson’s exploration of art and culture as a space for the exploration of death and its meanings (Love, Mortality and the Moving Image).  A gap remains, however, in terms of the specificities of these issues in the context of immigration and race.  This post is a mere starting point for thinking about these questions.

The metafilmic credit sequence of Ilegal immediately underscores the question of the visibility of the immigrant and of death.  A black and white image depicts ocean waves washing over various items of clothing, soaked through and strewn haphazardly on the sand, abandoned on an unidentified shoreline.  In a metacinematic gesture, the image is presented as though seen through the lens of a video camera, encased by a circular black frame and edged with textual indicators, such as a battery meter, a flashing red recording light, and the date.  The camera continues recording, encountering an abandoned boat, flooded with seawater and filled with more discarded items, an eerie intimation that something tragic has occurred.  This reading is supported by the scene’s tense, melodramatic soundtrack.  The film’s opening sequence implies, but does not make visible, the death of the immigrant.

Ilegal_Opening

Still taken from Ilegal

The camera through which these images are presented belongs to journalist Luis, the film’s central character.  The focalisation of the image through the journalist’s camera establishes a hierarchical paradigm of looking, in which the Spaniard looks and the immigrant is looked at, that will pervade the film.  This paradigm is intensified by the spectator’s alignment with the film’s journalist protagonist.  The metafilmic opening described above not only encourages the spectator’s identification with the Spaniard rather than with the film’s many migrant characters, but also reinforces the immigrant’s positioning as the object of the gaze.  The fact that the immigrant is only an implied presence in this sequence can be read as a critique of journalistic and mass media representations of immigrants and immigration.  Such representations often disregard the individuals involved, and tend to be more concerned with the totalling of casualties or with creating paranoia around the notion of an uncontrollable flood of immigrants.  In this way, Ilegal’s opening sequence immediately foregrounds the visibility of both immigration and death as a challenge to visual media such as film.

In spite of this stimulating credit sequence that draws attention to the aesthetics and ethics of the representation of the death in the context of immigration, Ilegal is at risk of repeating and perpetuating this approach, given its narrative and visual focus on the plight of its two Spanish protagonists, Luis and Sofia.  As Santiago Fouz Hernández and Alfredo Martínez Expósito point out, Luis in particular ‘has no qualms about obtaining and then exploiting images of migrants against their will’ (Live Flesh: The Male Body in Contemporary Spanish Cinema 171).  His dubious motives thus call into question the seemingly cautious, evocative and ethically-driven credit sequence described above.  The film becomes even more problematic at its conclusion, when Luis decides that the images he has captured have provoked too many deaths; because of this, he launches the tapes into the sea.  A tracking shot of the tapes floating in the water before they land on the seabed provides the background image of the film’s closing credits.  Like its opening sequence, Ilegal’s final images replace the immigrant with a visual remainder of his/her existence, erasing not only the body of the immigrant, but also the visual traces of that body.  In sum, the aesthetics and ethics of Ilegal’s representation of the death of the immigrant opens up, even if the film ultimately falls short of addressing, pertinent questions concerning the visibility and visibilisation of this phenomenon.

Like Ilegal, the opening sequence of Retorno a Hansala immediately addresses the visual representation of the death of the immigrant.  The sequence depicts the death of an anonymous, unidentified immigrant, who drowns while in sight of the Spanish coastline.  Accompanied by the choking sounds of the individual in question, the camera takes on the perspective of the drowning immigrant, dramatically circling above and below the water, and eventually becoming submerged below the water level.  The sequence ends with images of the seabed, the ripples of the water dabbled with sunlight.  The film’s title appears in white text, superimposed over this image of the seabed.  The text dissolves, and the image fades to black.

 

Retorno_Opening

Still taken from Retorno a Hansala

By aligning the camera with the perspective of the dying immigrant, and in so doing opening up a space for the articulation of a ‘subjectivity of the dying’ (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Touching Feeling 173), Retorno a Hansala undermines the aforementioned paradigm of looking established in Ilegal, whereby the immigrant is always situated as the object of the gaze.  The visual prioritisation of the dying immigrant’s point of view prefigures the film’s narrative focus on Leila (Farah Hamed), a Moroccan immigrant who has been living in Spain for five years.  As the title suggests, the film tracks Leila’s return journey to her home town of Hansala, the purpose of which is the repatriation of her younger brother’s body.  Unlike Leila, Rachid was unsuccessful in his attempt to make the crossing from North Africa to Southern Spain.  In comparison with Ilegal, Retorno a Hansala thus approaches a more ethical account of immigrant experience, and particularly of the representation of the death of the immigrant.  That said, the problem of visibility remains insofar as the identity of the dying immigrant remains undisclosed, although it would not be too much of a stretch to surmise that this opening sequence adopts the perspective of Leila’s brother Rachid, whose lifeless body washes ashore in the sequence immediately following the credits.

The closing credits of Retorno a Hansala, which are rendered in white text on a black background, and accompanied by the sound of waves crashing ashore, distance the film from journalistic and mass media representations concerning immigration.  The credits appear on the left-hand side of the frame, while a series of over-exposed photographs, presumably of immigrants although the contents are difficult to establish, fade in and out one by one.  An avalanche of words and numbers follow these images, reminiscent of the vocabulary used in journalistic reporting regarding immigration, and of the incessant tallying of immigrants, whether in terms of the number of foreigners living in the country, or in terms of the number who die trying to make the crossing (examples include: ‘a bordo de una patera’ (‘on board a raft’); ‘83 “sin papeles”’ (83 undocumented’); and ‘Trece inmigrantes ahogados’ (‘Thirteen immigrants drowned’)).  In this way, the end credits of Retorno bleakly parody media discourse on immigration.  In so doing, they indicate a critical self-awareness of the problem of visibility, in terms of both immigration and death, contained within the opening sequence.

As I said above, this post – which has been written in dialogue with this post by Niamh – is merely a starting point for thinking through extremely complex questions concerning the ethics and aesthetics of onscreen violence and death.  In an attempt to continue this thought-provoking and necessary discussion, Niamh and I will follow this post with a conversation about the commonalities and distinctions between the distinct films and contexts we are both working on.  In the meantime, any questions, comments, or thoughts are very welcome.

References:

Fouz-Hernandez, Santiago, and Alfredo Martinez-Exposito. Live Flesh: The Male Body in Contemporary Spanish Cinema. London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007. Print.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, N.C.; London: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.

Wilson, Emma., Love, Mortality and the Moving Image. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.

Thoughts on Cinema and Death: Part Two

Back in October, I wrote a blog post entitled ‘Thoughts on Cinema and Death: Part One’.  I expected to return to the topic in my subsequent post; however, that was not the case.  Finally, I revisit this theme – a mere three months later!  I have no idea as to where the time has gone.  But I do think that the PhD path never turns out quite as one may expect.  And no matter how well or how much you plan things, there are always interruptions, distractions, and unexpected twists in the road that end up leading you down a different route.  The last few months have seen me alter my working methods dramatically (see my previous post ‘On Working Methods’), and this has entailed a shift in focus.  Throughout my PhD, I’ve tended to work on one particular topic/chapter at a time, concentrating on the reading, watching, and thinking associated with that aspect of the thesis before moving on to the next section.  In the last few months, I’ve begun to move between and across the three chapters as I tie up the loose ends of research I have to complete for each chapter.  This is at once a deliberate move to keep my interest alive, as well as part and parcel of approaching the final stages of the project.  The reason I return to my work on cinema and death now is because I have to submit words shortly to one of my supervisors, and so I’ve chosen to rework that particular section of my thesis.

In my last post on cinema and death, I offered a very broad overview of the history of death in theoretical meditations on the medium of photography and cinema, summarising the stances of Walter Benjamin, André Bazin, and Roland Barthes.  I then briefly described the conceptualisation of early cinema as both a storage vessel that protected against death, and as a medium that had the ability to capture the moment of death; this line of argumentation has been extensively explored by film scholar Mary Ann Doane, in her book The Emergence of Cinematic Time.  In this post, I reflect on the status of cinema as a spectral medium, utilising Jacques Derrida’s conceptualisation of the spectre as a framework.  This is still something I’m working through in my thesis so I appreciate any comments, feedback, ideas, and suggestions.

My research on the significance of death in the context of film theory has revealed an interesting trend.  From a chronological perspective, there are two key moments in which death emerges as a theoretical concern: the first is in the late 1970s, evidenced by Barthes and Susan Sontag; and the second is at the turn of the millennium, exemplified by the work of Doane, but also D. N. Rodowick and Laura Mulvey.  Of these two moments, the latter is of the most importance for me, given that the films I analyse in my chapter on the immigrant – of which this section on cinema and death is a part – were all produced in the last ten to fifteen years.  Death thus emerges as a theoretical concern in connection with technological change: the late 1970s brought the shift to video and the inauguration of a new generation of special effects, while the 2000s bore witness to the widespread employment of digital filmmaking.  In each case, these changes specifically concern the materiality of the medium, a topic which is further emphasised by contemporary digital culture and its increasing immateriality.

The question of (im)materiality in relation to cinema invites, for me at least, a reading through the lens of spectrality.  I’ve already detailed my struggles with Jacques Derrida (read my post entitled ‘Digesting Derrida’ here).  However, in reworking my ideas on cinema and death, I’ve begun to see his usefulness in terms of cinema, spectrality, and the immigrant.  To summarise, the concepts of spectrality and hauntology constitute the framework of Derrida’s seminal text Spectres of Marx[1].  In the book’s preface, Derrida outlines four key aspects of his analysis: presence, justice and the other, and time.  With regards presence, Derrida details the curious status of the spectre that is at once both present and absent.  In this way, the spectre defies the framework of ontology, and exposes its limitations.  Because of this problematic, Derrida coins the term ‘hauntology’ as a means of discussing the extraordinary existence of the spectre.  The spectre’s paradoxical state of being chimes with the medium of film – if we reach back beyond the digital culture of our contemporary age – insofar as what it produced were not actual, material bodies, but were rather, images, projections, shadows of human figures on screen.  The shift from film to digital does not, however, alter the medium’s spectral quality.  If anything, it increases the spectrality of the cinematic image, given that images are no longer dependent on an indexical trace, but rather can be created digitally from a string of numbers.  Further enhancing the spectral aspect of the cinematic image is its potential for repetition and reiteration.  The distribution, circulation, and screening of films are even more widespread nowadays due to the global networks within which films are produced.  To relate it to the films I analyse, the immigrant character may die but he or she is immortalised through the film image, and can be brought back to life through rescreening the film.  In this way, the cinematic medium underscores Derrida’s conceptualisation of the spectre as ‘A question of repetition: a specter [sic] is always a revenant.  One cannot control its comings and goings because it begins by coming back’ (Spectres of Marx, p.11).

Returning to Derrida’s conceptualisation of the spectre, and to the themes of justice and the other, he remarks that his meditation on ‘ghosts, inheritance, and generations of ghosts’ is in other words a means of speaking about ‘certain others who are not present, nor presently living, either to us, in us, or outside us’ and that this is conducted ‘in the name of justice’ (Spectres of Marx, xviii).  The idea of the spectre who returns because of unfinished business has become a common trope in popular culture – examples include The Others, El Orfanato, or The Sixth Sense.  However, Derrida’s linking of justice and the other is of particular significance for my work on the immigrant, given that the majority films I consider are by Spanish, rather than migrant, filmmakers.  They thus do not just speak of the immigrant, but inevitably speak for the immigrant.  I am still thinking through what this means in the context of cinema as medium.  Does the alignment of immigrant with spectre in contemporary Spanish immigration cinema evidence a call for justice?  Does this line of argumentation risk falling into the trap, so beautifully outlined by Sara Ahmed in her book Strange Encounters, of universalisation and/or romanticisation of the immigrant other?

Finally, Derrida’s text centres on the question of time, circling around the idea, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, of the time being ‘out of joint’.  For Derrida, the spectre’s relationship to time is epitomised by this idea: ‘Furtive and untimely, the apparition of the specter [sic] does not belong to that time, it does not give time’ (Spectres of Marx, xix).  Again, I’m still thinking through the significance of this both for the immigrant, and for the medium of cinema.  However, I have noticed that this idea is indeed dealt with in one of the films I work on: Biutiful.  The film begins and ends with an encounter between protagonist Uxbal and his dead father, who fled Franco’s Spain and went into exile in Mexico only to die two weeks later of pneumonia.  In this encounter between father and son the time is most certainly out of joint, given that the father is in his twenties and the son in his fifties.  In addition, it is spectral, insofar as both characters are dead.

To conclude, and as I said above, I’m very much still working through these ideas concerning the link between cinema and death, and in terms of cinema as a spectral medium.  Derrida’s conceptualisations of spectrality and hauntology should prove useful as a means of interpreting this link with respect to the representation of death in Spanish immigration films.  Any comments, questions, feedback welcome!


[1] DERRIDA, J., 2006. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. New York; Oxon: Routledge Classics.

Spaniards, Immigrants, and Tourists in Contemporary “Spanish” Cinema

As promised in my previous post, this post details my recent research on Spanish actor Javier Bardem.  At the beginning of November, I attended the Hispanic Cinemas: En Transición conference at the Universidad Carlos III, Madrid.  The paper I presented there was entitled ‘Tourists and Immigrants on the Spanish Cinematic Screen: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008) and Biutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, 2009)’.  The subject matter is only tangentially related to my PhD research, and so felt like somewhat of an experiment.  I am still trying to work through these ideas and their correlations, and so I am hopeful that in this post, I will be able to articulate my thoughts in a coherent manner.  Here, I conjoin some of the key ideas of my paper with more recent thoughts I have had on the subject.

The theme of the conference was transitions.  This concept has a very particular, concrete meaning in the context of twentieth-century Spain; specifically it has become synonymous with the political transition from dictatorship to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.  However, in my abstract (read it here), I had outlined my intention to focus not on the political transition, but rather on two interrelated transitions which emerged in part due to this political shift: firstly, Spain’s transition from a country of emigration to a country of immigration; and secondly, Spain’s positioning as the exotic Other of Europe to its expression of a consolidated Europeanised identity.  Crucially, I problematised the concept of transition as a finite process from one ontological state to another.  Instead, I focused on the figures of the tourist and the immigrant as resonances of these former states – that is Spain as a country of emigration, and as the exotic Other of Europe.

While the paper was initially motivated by the figures of the tourist and the immigrant, I quickly realised that their significance lay in their couplings with Spanish characters, and in particular those embodied by Javier Bardem.  In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Bardem plays Juan Antonio, an attractive, mysterious, passionate painter, who swiftly elicits the interest of North American tourists, Cristina (played by Scarlett Johansson) and Vicky (Rebecca Hall).  Following a brief and unexpected sexual encounter with strait-laced Vicky, Juan Antonio becomes romantically involved with free-wheeling Cristina, who quickly moves in with her new beau.  Their domestic bliss is short-lived however, interrupted by Juan Antonio’s ex-wife, María Elena.  That María Elena is played by Bardem’s real-life partner, Penélope Cruz, indicates both the commercial appeal of Allen’s casting, as well as an underlying desire to ground the film and its Spanish characters in the terrain of authenticity.  In Biutiful, Bardem plays Uxbal, a middle-aged father of two, who is diagnosed early on in the film with terminal cancer.  Like Juan Antonio, he too has an ex-wife suffering psychologically; however, the emotive characterisation of Maramba (played by Maricel Alvarez) is far removed from the quasi comical treatment of María Elena’s neurosis.  Uxbal is deeply embedded within a diffuse web of corruption and lies in which the film’s many immigrant characters are also implicated.  Both films meditate then, in distinct ways, on the construction of Otherness.

In my abstract, I had suggested that both the immigrant and the tourist were individuals in transit(ion), figures of Otherness engaging with, and exposing, the constructedness of any (projection of) Spanish national identity.  However, when preparing my paper, I reconsidered this perspective, arguing instead that the tourist (at least as far as Vicky Cristina Barcelona is concerned) functions conversely to position the Spaniard as a figure of Otherness.  Reading Bardem’s performance across the two films reveals precisely how Spanish subjectivity depends both upon its conceptualisation as that which is Other in the context of the Western world, but also upon its construction in relation to a plethora of other Others.

This duality is underscored by the film objects I analysed in the paper, neither of which sits unproblematically under the rubric of ‘Spanish cinema’.  I categorised the films themselves as ‘migrant’, insofar as while both films are set and filmed on Spanish soil, they are also both directed by filmmakers who are not of Spanish origins (Allen is North American; Iñárritu is Mexican); and they are both co-productions (the BFI list them as follows: Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Spain-US; Biutiful – Spain, UK, Mexico).  The films’ conceptualisation of Spanish subjectivity is therefore presented, at least partially, from an external perspective.  In this way, they recall the Anglo- and Francophone nineteenth-century Romantic tradition of representing Spain as Europe’s exotic counterpart, the most renowned examples of which are Alexandre Dumas’ remark that ‘Africa begins at the Pyrenees’ and Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona underscores its exteriority from the outset.  Take the lyrics of the song accompanying the opening credits – ‘Barcelona’ (lyrics in Spanish/English here) by Giulia y Los Tellarini – which highlight the strangeness of the Catalan capital (‘Barcelona, mi mente está llena de cara de gente extranjera: conocida, desconocida y vuelta a ser transparente’), and the lack of certitude it produces in the visitor (‘No existo más Barcelona, siendo
esposa de tus ruidos, tu laberinto extrovertido’).  The same process is applied to Bardem’s character Juan Antonio, whose charm and good looks spark the rapid disintegration of Vicky’s respect for fidelity and tradition.  Like the city of Barcelona then, Juan Antonio’s strangeness inspires ontological uncertainty in tourist Vicky – an idea demonstrated by the use of the dissolve to transition between shots as they share their first kiss.  If the function of the tourist is to conduct a process of Othering on the Spaniard, then this process is most likely driven by a fear of ontological uncertainty when faced with the strangeness of the Other.  The film thus evidences Homi K. Bhabha’s conceptualisation of the stereotype as ‘a complex, ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation as anxious as it is assertive’ that requires compulsive repetition, so that ‘the same old stories […] are differently gratifying and terrifying each time’ (see his book The Location of Culture, p.70 and p.76).  And within this framework, Vicky Cristina Barcelona reveals the extent to which Spanish subjectivity remains concordant with its historical status as the exotic Other against which the Western world measures itself.

The matter of exteriority is equally present in Biutiful.  As stated above, it is not the Spaniard who figures as the Other in this film; rather, the film renders Otherness multiple and diffuse, demonstrated by the array of immigrant characters, most notably of Asian and African origins, but also by the interrogation of diverse states of Otherness, such as the Otherness of the father, unknown to his son; the Otherness of the body as it submits to cancer; and spiritual Otherness, symbolised by the visual doubling of the dead throughout the film.  In spite of, and partly because of, this, Biutiful treats Otherness in a similar manner to Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  That is, Otherness is projected outward onto another being (or, in this case, multiple beings).  Despite the lack of attention paid to the film’s migrant characters, the focus on Uxbal and his relationship with his late father, Mateo, yields an intriguing aspect of the film’s depiction of Spanish subjectivity.  Exiled to Mexico during the Franco regime, Mateo’s presence in the film is threefold: he appears as a ghost in the opening and closing sequences; he materialises as a dead body, exhumed following the sale of his niche; and finally, he emerges as a photographic presence, studied by Uxbal and his two children.  This gesture towards Mexico-Spain relations, by means of the father’s ghost, thus characterises Spanish subjectivity as spectrally uncertain, haunted by its past.

To conclude, I return to Bardem, who plays a key role in the contemporary cinematic construction of Spanish subjectivity, precisely due to his work across various national cinemas and cinematic industries.  His performance in distinct roles – such as the seductive Juan Antonio or the corrupt Uxbal – evidences the ambiguity attached to national identity in postmodern, globalised society.  Moreover, the roles he plays frequently rely on certain Hispanic stereotypes; for example the exotic, desirable Spanish Other – a role he has embodied not just in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but also in Eat Pray Love; or the Hispanic villain – as in No Country for Old Men and, most recently, Skyfall.  By drawing upon these clichés of Spanish subjectivity, the Spanish actor – in this case Bardem – demonstrates the extent to which national identity necessarily involves a mutual contract between inside and outside – an idea compounded by the portrayal of relations between Spaniards, immigrants, and tourists in contemporary “Spanish” cinema.

Digesting Derrida

I’m currently working on Jacques Derrida, in particular Echographies of Television and Spectres of Marx.  Recently I produced a draft version of the third chapter of my phd thesis, which considers how immigration and death intersect in contemporary Spanish cinema. While researching this chapter, I happened to read Spectres. I find Derrida particularly challenging and not overly enjoyable to read- something that makes me reluctant to engage with his work. However, my supervisors were both taken with the way I applied his ideas, such as spectrality and the twin facets of occupation and exorcism, to the representation of death in Spanish immigration films.
I’ve since adapted my usual reading pattern – usually I read relevant material in its entirety rather than reading small sections – and have been working through Derrida in digestible chunks (i.e. a chapter a day) so as not to lose my patience! This is already proving more productive  -I’m finding his work much easier to stomach!