Previously Andrzej Zulawksi's Possession (1981) was not at all a film I associated with primary colors—presumably like many, I remembered its monster as earthy and its early 80s Kreuzberg as drained of color—but in recent re-viewings I've been struck by the blatant recurrence of a palette of yellow, blue, red, and white that recalls something like Godard's Weekend (1967) or Godard and Gorin's Tout Va Bien (1972).
But my understanding of the significance of this palette has little to do with Godard, however fun it might be to think of a direct influence. Rather, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that Possession is a film taking place in the fantasy or symbolic world of a child: Bob (Michael Hogben), the son of Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and Mark (Sam Neill). What we see in the film is a child's subjective angle on his father's absence and return, the breakup of his parents' marriage (something like the negation or reversal of a primal scene), and that breakup's producing the offspring of a monster (who's also in effect the child's brother, and whom—at the end of the film—he doesn't want to let into the house: he may be more afraid of being replaced by his new sibling than by any threat to his body). And then there is also, when his mother leaves the house, the child's symbolic equivalence between his mother and his teacher (both played by Isabelle Adjani). All these primary colors, which are also the colors of Bob's toys, might be seen in these terms.
(The following also appeared as a column on the blog Aesthetics for Birds.)
It is tempting to think that cinema somehow has a prehistory in philosophy. That is, among those philosophers who pre-date the invention of cinema, there are some whose very spirits seem to inform the medium itself, making their connections to particular films, even if only implicit, seem especially fated or necessary. Strikingly, these are often philosophers somehow opposed to theater and "theatricality," and known for harshly depicting the effects of sitting isolated in the dark. (The well-worn comparisons between cinema and Plato's Myth of the Cave come to mind.)
Among such philosophers is surely Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an eighteenth-century philosopher who asked what it is to be spectator of, as well as a spectacle for, other persons. For Rousseau, among the characteristic features of our social lives is our caring to be noticed, which in turn involves our acknowledging others as capable of noticing us: as creatures that, unlike mere things, can subject us to their evaluative gaze. That is, for Rousseau, we cannot make spectacles of ourselves without acknowledging or, in a sense, also making spectacles of others.
At least, this is one way of understanding the role of “spectacles” in Rousseau’s various accounts of the origins of sociality in humans: either phylogenetic (as in the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and the Essay on the Origin of Languages) or ontogenetic (as in his educational treatise and novel Emile). But “spectacles” come up even more directly and literally in his criticisms of the theater (especially in his Letter to d’Alembert on “spectacles”), and especially in his insistence that, if there is anything good in the acknowledgment of one another as spectacles, it is perverted in the institution of the theater, where spectacles are entirely bought and the expressions of persons (the actors) are sold.
On Rousseau's understanding of the theater, the actor, under force of his dependence on the spectator for his livelihood, must “counterfeit” himself, or put his person “publicly on sale" (1). That is, the actor must falsify himself, not just in the sense that he must play a character, but also in the sense that he must be false to the spectator: he flatters the latter’s capacity for identification or pity. For example, Rousseau refers to the Greek despot Alexander of Pherae:
who dared not attend the performance of a single tragedy for fear that he might be seen to moan with Andromache and Priam, but who listened without emotion to the cries of so many citizens daily being murdered on his orders (2).
In a reversal of Aristotle’s views on the theater (according to which the catharsis of tragedy has beneficial effects), Rousseau thinks that among the theater’s pathological effects is its exhausting one’s capacities for being a sympathetic spectator:
[Has] he [the spectator] not acquitted himself of all that he owes to virtue by the homage which he has just rendered it [in watching a play]? What more could one want of him? That he practice it himself? He has no role to play; he is no actor (3).
Thus, insofar as the theater is a locus of buying and selling, the spectator becomes an unsympathetic master and the actor an alienated laborer. (In Rousseau’s vision of popular sovereignty, and the entertainments permitted in an egalitarian republic, there will be no distinction between spectator and actor, any more than between between master and servant: “let the spectators become an entertainment to themselves; make them actors themselves; do it so that each sees and loves himself in the others so that all will be better united.” ).
It goes without saying that the theater and the cinema are not the same thing. But it is interesting that whereas for Rousseau the theater (at least outside republican entertainments) is a site for the failure of mutual acknowledgment, for the Spanish director Víctor Erice, the cinema is where some of the most important identifications take place.
Indeed, both of Erice's two fiction features (The Spirit of the Beehive [El espíritu de la colmena], from 1973, and El Sur, from 1983) boast scenes in movie theaters, and both involve their protagonists’ finding their capacities for identification awakened in the cinema, or around the cinema. For example, in El Sur eight-year-old Estrella (Sonsoles Aranguren) follows her father (a disillusioned republican teacher persecuted under Franco) to the cinema, where he is watching a film featuring an actress whose name ('Irene Rios') Estrella has found written over and over again in his papers. Estrella later finds him in a cafe composing a letter to that same actress, or at least that is what she imagines: the voiceover narration of older Estrella gives way to the voice of her father’s letter, leaving it ambiguous whether we are hearing its real or its imagined contents. When her father notices Estrella observing him, the voiceover of her later self again takes over: “Now I understand that he reacted as if I’d caught him doing something wrong.” Estrella’s following her father to the movies serves as a kind of primal scene, a mysterious suggestion of something about her prehistory, one that at least allows her (even if only in recalling the moment years later) to give context to his emotional unavailability.
Themes of identification in the cinema organize The Spirit of the Beehive even more explicitly. Set on the Castilian Plain in 1940, just after the defeat of republicanism in the Spanish Civil War, The Spirit of the Beehive opens with six-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent, in her very first role) joining her older sister in a rustic, makeshift cinema for a screening of James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein. Throughout the twenty minutes or so in which scenes from Frankenstein appear, Erice particularly focuses on the monster's encounter with a young girl, whom he kills by throwing into a pond (naively thinking she will float like the flower petals he had just seen her tossing in). Here Ana is invited to identify with at least two others, both, like her, still very innocent in the ways of the world: a child and a monster (or a child-like monster).
Thinking through the importance of Ana’s identifying with a monster, as I’d like to do, will require understanding how Rousseau’s writing on spectatorship and The Spirit of the Beehive do seem to speak with one another, and even more deeply than by way of contrast. And among the film’s particular connections to Rousseau is a shared association between feeling a spectacle and feeling confronted by a Giant. (I should note that at least part of this connection is by way of Mary Shelley: the literary scholar David Marshall has argued convincingly that Rousseau's writing was a profound influence on the author of Frankenstein, informing the notions of savagery, exile, and indeed spectatorship rife in that novel. ) For example, in a passage in the Essay on the Origin of Languages, Rousseau imagines the early human’s (the sauvage’s) first confrontation with others of his kind:
A [sauvage] meeting others will at first have been frightened. His fright will have made him see these men as larger and stronger than himself; he will have called them Giants. After much experience he will have recognized that since these supposed Giants are neither bigger nor stronger than he, their stature did not fit the idea he had initially attached to the word Giant. He will therefore invent another name common to them and to himself, for example the name man, and he will restrict the name Giant to the false object that had struck him during his illusion (6).
The sauvage is frightened by others of his kind not just because they threaten his physical integrity, or serve as competitive threats, but also because they render him a spectacle, the object of their gaze. Rousseau is describing the birth of sociality, and the sauvage sees others as Giants because they are significant to him: he cares about how he is taken in by them. (When he identifies with them, and comes to see them as fellow creatures, it is because he comes to see them as thinking the same of him. )
Similarly, The Spirit of the Beehive is throughout informed by a child’s confrontation by a Giant. Ana’s fascination with Frankenstein’s Monster, the way the movie stays with her (as movies do), typifies her relationship with anything else large, adult, and masculine: a republican fugitive she discovers in hiding, her own (like Estrella's) emotionally unavailable father. It also typifies her relationship with anything else that can look back at her, or confront her with an independent point of view. This is most obvious when, in a schoolroom exercise, she must guess what is missing from a mannequin called “Don José.” Only when provoked by her older sister can she see that Don José is missing his eyes. And only when restoring his eyes to him does she feel the significance of being looked upon: that, unlike the lungs or the stomach (which Don José had also had missing), the eyes evaluate, they judge, they take a point of view. As Dr. Frankenstein knew, building a Giant can be scary, because it can look back at you. (Later in the film we see a portrait of Franco hanging on the same schoolroom's wall.)
The men in Ana’s life (her father, the republican fugitive) are Giants because they could not remain mere spectacles (just as, in her later hallucinatory visions of Frankenstein's monster, the latter could not just stay up on the screen): they also make a spectacle of Ana. In fact, it seems less apt to characterize Ana’s response to these Giants as horror than as fascination or identification: she can feel their fear, including their fear of her, as when she startles the republican fugitive in his hideout. She goes to sleep, and her image fades into his, underscoring her identification with him. Having once seen him as a Giant (he’s hiding in the hut where her sister told her she could find Frankenstein’s monster), she now sees him as a fellow creature. (What she doesn’t know is that the Francoists will soon exterminate him like a rat.)
These identifications reach an apex when (startled by her father's learning of her encounter with the fugitive) she runs away from home, and, finding a pool of water, her reflection in it becomes the very image of Frankenstein's monster. Like Rousseau's sauvage, she no longer feels small before a Giant, but understands him to be just as significant, or insignificant, as she is. In watching her image transform into his, she indeed transforms into a Giant; but she also, by virtue of that, renders the Giant a child. That is again the poignancy of the Monster's encounter with the young girl (in the 1931 film, the scene that Ana is, in these hallucinations, replaying): again, the monster and the child are both innocents, both are receiving their early education in things; if one is more dangerous, that's only because he's fated to be bigger. (Since Ana's older sister typically bullies and provokes her, her fantasy of meeting the monster might also be her fantasy of equality, of having a true peer.)
Of course, so long as Ana can only see herself through the Giants that surround her, she also lacks much a sense of who she is. (Rousseau, who later in life was accused of being a monster, begins his last work, The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, asking, in desperate retort to these accusations, "What am I?" ) But that just underscores the importance of Ana's return home from her exile (from her own solitary walks), and how that return constitutes an achievement of sovereignty: after waking up from a deep sleep (she's had a "very powerful experience," a doctor says, ambiguously) she declares out of her window (and to the world) “I am Ana” (“Soy Ana”). Until then those words had been the province of others: her older sister had instructed her to use them to invoke Frankenstein's monster (Beetlejuice-like or Candyman-like, but using Ana’s own name, and thus emphasizing her identification with him). Only now can she hear herself in those words.
Thus, a film made in the waning years of the Franco regime ends with a child’s declaration of sovereignty after a period of exile. Having only seen herself through others, or through her identification with Giants, she finally becomes a spectacle for herself. Or rather: in contrast with Rousseau's spectator, Ana does have a "role to play." For Ana, finally coming to say 'I' means, as with the participants in republican "spectacles," being actor and spectator at once.
- Rousseau, the Letter to d'Alembert p. 79, published as Politics and the Arts, trans. Allan Bloom (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).
- Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality pp. 152-53, trans. Victor Gourevitch, in The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
- Rousseau, the Letter to d'Alembert p. 25
- Ibid. p. 126
- David Marshall, "Frankenstein, or Rousseau's Monster: Sympathy and Speculative Eyes," in his The Surprising Effects of Sympathy: Marivaux, Diderot, Rousseau, and Mary Shelley (The University of Chicago Press, 1988). Marshall is especially helpful in his developing the idea of Mary Shelley's reading of Rousseau as a kind of primal scene: as her attempt to understand her pre-history through understanding her Rousseau-influenced parents, Mary Wollstonecraft (who died after giving birth to her daughter) and William Godwin.
- Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Languages p. 254, trans. Victor Gourevitch, in The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
- In his reading of this passage, Stanley Cavell writes, "A natural reading of Rousseau's scene is to take the savage man to be frightened by one who is frightened upon meeting him. (It is of the essence of this passage of initial human confrontation to see that everything said about either the one or the other is true of both.)" From Cavell, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy p. 467 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).
- Rousseau, The Reveries of the Solitary Walker p. 1, trans. Charles E. Butterworth (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1992).
Mobility coming out of immobility, out of something still: isn’t that the original fascination of the movies? Isn’t that what Muybridge’s horse is supposed to remind us of? That when things are stuck, just push them together, and we don’t just get something meaningful (that’s montage), but movement, a propelling forward? It almost makes you wonder about our adolescent hang-ups, about why we’re so often told to look away from the movies: as though they didn’t give us the very image of how to move on. Cut the stuff together. Add music (if you have to). And, it’s…alive.
Federico Veiroj makes films about all that. His most recent film The Apostate (Uruguay/Spain, 2015) gives us someone who’s almost nothing but adolescent hang-ups. Gonzalo’s in his late 30s and he nearly insistently fails his classes. (It’s not because he’s dumb. He isn’t.) He’s replaying early sexual fantasies about his cousin. (Does she reciprocate, for a time, or is it all just a dream?) And, yes, he wets his bed.
So what propels him to make this grand gesture, the one at the center of the film, that of formally repudiating his baptism in the Catholic Church? Might it have something to do with the movies? Well, we have to locate his reasons for apostatizing. It’s not because he’s militantly atheistic, or because he’s found something else to believe in. In fact, he gives enormous weight to the church’s rituals, and even to that of apostatizing. He wants to repudiate the priests in their way, in a way that they’ll get, but also in a way that he can share with them.
He’s also haunted by his family’s having imposed something on him against his will. It’s not an uncommon anxiety, though it’s perhaps less acute in baptism than in circumcision. (Veiroj grew up Jewish in Uruguay, though he based the film’s story on the real-life attempts at apostatizing of his Catholic friend Álvaro Ogalla, who also plays Gonzalo.) And anxiety about forced circumcision suggests anxiety about castration, but also about (via the psychoanalytic concept of "symbolic castration") losing one’s particular voice. So it’s not surprising that, at the beginning of the film, Gonzalo is threatened to find that an altar boy he meets has taken a vow of silence. (When it dawns on him that that’s why the latter won’t speak, his look is one of both resignation and horror. In one way or another, he knows what such a vow is like.) As for his tutee, Antonio, the boy whose life Gonzalo participates in, not at all in horror, but happily, as though rewriting his own life: Gonzalo’s gift to him is a dictionary. Words.
So it would be too pat to say, as one might, that Gonzalo’s obsession with his own baptism is just another instance of his being stuck in childhood. Reclaiming his baptism certificate, it seems, is his way of reclaiming his voice. But that still doesn’t answer the original question: if it’s his voice that’s at issue, what moves this otherwise mostly arrested man to reclaim it? Even if all these associations are somehow present or salient for him, how is his apostatizing not just another one of his idle fantasies?
And maybe it is. (It’s never really clear what in the film is, or is not, just in his mind.) But Veiroj seems to offer another, more interesting possibility: that movies themselves give us an image of a kind of a movement coming out of repetition, and that it’s in film music, in the parts of movies that we can hum to ourselves, that we can recall to ourselves what it is to move.
This is declared, more or less, in Veiroj’s previous film, A Useful Life (2010), when the director of a cinematheque, in a radio interview, discusses Eisenstein’s "Battle on the Ice" scene in Alexander Nevsky:
How do you explain the way [a film] echoes in a spectator? Maybe we can call them an educated spectator, but that’s the wrong term. It’s an alert, sensitive spectator. Let’s say ... Alexander Nevsky’s Battle of the Ice. Sergei Eisenstein’s movie with music by Sergei Prokofiev. What we have is an apparently cold, formal exercise, where the camera doesn’t move but there seems to be motion, and there are 6 or 7 melody lines from Shostakovich, I mean Prokofiev, and the relationship between the framing of each image. To such an extent that, if you compare the music sheet, and its movements to the images, the movements coincide. This is to explain how it is made and why that sequence has such an overwhelming impact on the spectator. It is explained in that manner.
Coldly, formally he’s trying to explain this exercise (just as he might be asked to explain why the cinematheque, on its walls, memorializes another “apparently cold, formal” exercise, Muybridge’s galloping horse). He speaks ploddingly, as though he’s had to say this a thousand times. Jorge, a film programmer and the protagonist of A Useful Life, listens coldly, and gestures to his boss to wrap it up. No, this isn’t some magical or cumulative effect coming out of something cold and formal: the invocation of Eisenstein offers an ironic contrast with what we’re watching (and listening to), a contrast with the monotonous (but sweet and heavenly, because unchanging) character of life inside the Montevideo film archive. (When things change for Jorge, when he begins to direct his own life, it’s only because of an arbitrary cut: the cinematheque’s closing.)
With Gonzalo, who’s younger and more colorful than Jorge (though that doesn’t account for everything), things are different. He embodies Prokofiev’s Nevsky score, and twice: it plays (non-diegetically) when he goes to battle against the priests who won’t let him formally apostatize. It’s all his fantasy, of course. But it’s hard to escape the impression that this music is (contributes to? gives expression to?) the motive force propelling him along. It doesn’t come from outside him, any more than non-diegetic music comes from outside a film. And no one who hums this sort of thing to himself could really be stuck. With Gonzalo, we get to experience the effect of those “cold, formal” exercises in film history: not mere repetition, but a centrifugal force coming out of repetition, a spinning away.
But, in the end, is Gonzalo just spinning away, unanchored? It’s hard to say. Yet if he’s really got his baptism certificate (again, who knows what in this film is real?), then he’s also got his voice (or he's made an impression on Antonio, who never lost his voice, or on the altar boy, who did). It reminds us that when Eisenstein’s films couldn’t be silent anymore, they still moved, and also sang. And even when Gonzalo’s movie’s just in his head, its music is very real to him, and it still moves him; it still moves us.
I have not read deeply into Jacques Rivette’s politics (obviously left, and, in a film like 1981’s Pont du Nord, apparently registering disillusionment with what came of the post-1968 French left). But in finally seeing the complete version of Rivette’s Out 1 (co-directed with Suzanne Schiffman, often referred to as Out 1: noli me tangere) last weekend, I was struck by how this film thematizes the tension at its center (between its statuses as cinema and as filmed improvisatory theater), and specifically how it makes that tension a symbol of a certain ambivalence toward politics: between politics as located in the personal and deliberate (the stuff of conspiracies, and conspiratorial parties resembling theatrical troupes) and politics as located in impersonal, principally economic, forces (whose automation may be intervened in, just as a film’s spinning reels can be edited, but whose spinning runs on its own, according to laws).
(I earlier remarked on how Matías Piñeiro’s films can be understood as treating competition between artistic media, especially film and theater, as symbolic of romantic competition, and that connection was very much on my mind in seeing Out 1. I should add here that there are spoilers below.)
Watching the complete film (exceptionally long, historically unavailable) is itself like an initiation into a conspiracy of the sort that Colin, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, deciphers and, almost despite himself, enters. Just as among the film’s peculiar pleasures is keeping track of its characters and their connections across episodes, among the peculiar pleasures of seeing it in a theater is keeping track of who else is there, who comes and goes across hours. (The film is at least as much concerned with eliciting acknowledgement of the rest of the audience, or thoughts of what may be going on with them, as anything horrific or pornographic.) And just as the film wants to blend our notions of conspiracy and theater, as though something in the nature of theater must be hidden or conspiratorial, our initiation into Out 1 is equally into something like theater: we share and come to know the spaces occupied by the theatrical troupes rehearsing Aeschylus (connected by their association with the conspiracy of the Thirteen); our endurance mirrors their endurance.
This all buttresses expectations of something revolutionary, of some deep revelation to come, but the film disappoints that. (It also thematizes that disappointment.) After several hours, plots emerge, and move incrementally, but they end with nothing more ecstatic or millennial than Thomas’s crying hysterically on the beach. (Even Fredérique’s ill-fated sabotaging of Renaud, the most dramatic scene in the film, is mostly bathetic.) We learn from the conversation between Etienne and Thomas that the Thirteen was never really operative (whatever that means). We learn from the conversation between Lucie and Warok that the Thirteen may have been just a game (but then why were there lives at stake?), and that Colin has less unraveled the game than unwittingly perpetuated it. And we learn something about what it is for film to approach theater asymptotically. But that it could only ever be asymptotic presents its own disappointments.
Nevertheless, our disappointment at the end of the film should be as divided as any of the ambivalences the film registers (between film and theater, between personal and impersonal conceptions of politics). In the end, Out 1 is both film and filmed theater, and it takes seriously the dread of conspiracy theories while at the same time going deeper than that dread: there might indeed be something happening among the colorful and brightly dressed persons before us (however inscrutable that may be); but that would not even be visible if not for the darker and impersonal forces behind us.
A tie binding the two best films starring David Bowie, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, is their concern with the humiliation of those found both threatening and beautiful (or threatening in their beauty), though Oshima's film makes more prominent the beauty manifested in voice. It's about the oppressiveness of masculine codes of honor, and how behind much senseless violence is the need for self-expression (perhaps through song) that those codes render impossible—or sublimate violently. (It thematizes Bowie's status as a pop star more explicitly than the earlier film does, and especially in his relation to the P.O.W camp commander played by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.)
At the end of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, it's important that Major Jack Celliers isn't exactly trying to correct for his past betrayal of his younger brother. He's (deliberately or not) reenacting his brother's suffering. Now he's the strange, beautiful blonde male whose very presence is simultaneously attractive and offensive to participants in masculine codes of honor (New Zealander schoolboys, Japanese P.O.W camp commanders). Obviously he reenacts his brother's punishment: both are buried up to their heads, just short of where they can emit their voices (or show their blonde hair). In both cases, those in power can maintain what they find beautiful only so long as they can humiliate it, only so long as they can't expose their attraction (and the vulnerability that that entails).
Addendum 2/6/16: It may itself be significant that, in writing the above, I completely neglected the significance of Celliers's brother's deformed back. (This seems to cut against the idea that what's difficult or unbearable for the bullies is their finding something about him beautiful.) It's tempting to write off the film's treatment of his deformity as just too literary, in contrast with the "properly" cinematic treatment of his beauty and his voice: we would be less likely to notice the deformed back had we not been told about it, whereas we feel, see, and hear (more saliently) the beauty manifested in his voice, and the vulnerability that it elicits from the bullies.
But I think that account alone would be too quick, since we're not just told about the brother's deformity; we're told about it by Celliers himself (in his voiceover). This suggests that the deformity is more significant for him than it is for his "audience" (the bullies, ourselves). And this may reflect Celliers's own difficulty in seeing his brother as other, as anything other than an extension of himself. (In remarking on his brother's deformity, he says that he could not stand being associated with anything imperfect. Unlike Celliers himself, his brother—as he imagines him—never ages, thus suggesting less a separate person than a frozen part of his Ego.) When Celliers sacrifices his brother to the bullies, he treats him as a part of himself that can be sacrificed, or must be sacrificed (exactly because of its imperfection). And when he reenacts his brother's punishment, he's again not exactly making up for a past wrong—that would require his seeing his brother as the sort of entity that he could wrong, namely a separate person—but rather reincorporating the part of himself he had been ashamed of.
That he's ashamed of the part of himself others find beautiful (even if only, in the discomfort of their attraction, to humiliate it) is one of the ironies in this profound and under-examined film.
I wrote the following thoughts last fall in an exchange with Aaron Garrett coming out of his blog post on Matías Piñeiro's excellent 2012 film Viola.
In recently rewatching Viola, and after having seen Piñeiro's more recent film The Princess of France, I'm struck by how both films seem to use competition and rivalry among various arts and media as a metaphor for competition and rivalry in romantic contexts. In The Princess of France a whole bunch of artistic media are thrown into competition: radio, classical music, oil painting, theater (as read and as performed) and film. The urgency placed on this competition almost seems (as I remember the film) to deflate any urgency in the romantic rivalries ostensibly at the center of the film. Somehow the characters manage to communicate anyway, despite these rivalries.
In Viola, in contrast, the competition is squarely between theater and film, and it centers on the very different roles that repetition plays in the two media. Whereas film is in its nature repetitive or automatic (it's always the same with each projection), even a repeat performance of a play introduces new possibilities, new opportunities for improvisation and disruption (as when Cecilia finds herself the object of the gaze of someone in the audience, the person who will turn out to be Javier). It's striking how the film explores this through its own kind of repetition (including indeed some Hang Song Soo-like devices, as with the "seduction" between Cecilia and Sabrina) but also through some very standardly literary devices. Viola represents (or represents to herself) the automation of cinema, something made explicit in her dream, in which the two theater actresses in the car encourage her to be more spontaneous, less automatic. We associate Viola less with Shakespeare than with the history of cinema (in her working for Metropolis Films, its 'M' unmistakably that of the poster of Lang's film, also evoking the 'M' of another Lang film) and specifically the place in the history of cinema of Buenos Aires (where missing scenes from Metropolis were discovered). I take seriously, maybe too seriously, her name's affinity with 'Moviola'. And her new spontaneity, at the end of the film, is symbolized by the very literary, indeed fairy tale, device of a magic ring: the ring that Cecilia gives her in the car, which she's found wearing at the end, as though having been bestowed theater's improvisatory power.
So the epilogue is very striking in this context. In a way, there's nothing specifically cinematic about it. The device of a voiceover from the future (establishing a "future perfect," as Garrett puts it in his post) could be achieved in the theater, and even without "automatic" means such as a recording. But by the end of the film these concerns don't really matter. Theater's spontaneity can be delivered, as through a magic ring, and just like films delivered through the mail. At the end the two media look very much alike, albeit still separate. This harmony, like the harmony between Viola and Javier in the epilogue, may not be permanent, but it's harmony nonetheless.