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Letters from Lockdown #3: Savina Petkova

Writing from Bulgaria, Savina replies to Adina's previous letter, discussing nostalgia and using cinema as a sanctuary...

Dear all,

I'm composing this email in delay because of the holiday spell that's had an ambiguous effect on me, much like 2020 has, all in all. More than anything, I'd like to start from the present, as the future has felt lost for some time now, while the past has been lingering seductively around the corner, luring me into daydreams. The present is this: Christmas with my family, most of them have recently recovered from covid, here in Bulgaria which has become my old/new home. I've been thinking a lot about home and homeliness in relation to cinema for some years now and certainly nostalgia has crept up on me from both past, future, and now – present. I miss all of you tremendously and I cherish every one of you taking their time to write something of themselves into an email chain. I love the prolonged time and the slowness of a warm, wordy embrace.

Berlinale has saved me in so many ways. You all met me in my most vulnerable state, the most vulnerable year, and to be fair, I'm happy to say it's only been unfolding. Sharing talks and films with you has remained a beacon of pre-pandemic times but the nostalgia, you know, I keep fighting it, as much as I admire it. Undine worked its magic on me with its narrative weirdness (like, who actually felt like they 'got' the film?), its gentle unravel of a love that slips into all your folds, brushing against all the layers of skin, brain, soul – whatever you call it – and by fragmenting you, it forms a wholeness. It's a result I've been yearning for – in love, life, writing, film viewing. I did experience a similar overwhelm by watching Isabella (and that's a whole conversation to be had with Rodrigo) which is one of the most poetic lessons of letting go I've seen. 

Yes, I've seen lots of films this year, using them as sanctuary, as a companion, as an escape. Aside from Undine, the only other film from my top 5 I saw in a cinema, is Shannon Murphy's Babyteeth at IFFR in January, which is, I'd say, a paean to vulnerability to which I paid my respect in the form of tears upon multiple home watches. Yes, I also cried a lot (not only on films) this year. Dick Johnson is Dead was my favourite Netflix view of the year and also made me think of my parents, of how I could ever do something of a tribute to them, since they cannot read my English writings and do not really watch films. Being stuck with reflections on death and love is a state that permeates most of my watches. Both Shirley (which I missed at Berlinale because of our  Dine and Shine – yes Debbie you were perfectly right I should stay all night!) and Saint Maud offered me a temporary dwell into a labyrinthian female mind that ultimately both scares and allures me. I've felt ambiguous about art and people throughout the year. 

Taking a cue from our whatsapp chat, I watched So Pretty the other day, its incisive tenderness opened up the world to me and it feels the right time to have seen it. I think my heart is ready for raw love as a means of production. I also couldn't help but recall the brisk conversations on our amorous affairs with/in Berlin, right, Adi? 

If I have to be honest, most of my watching has been catching up on stuff. Teaching a class on film form has introduced me to Lang, Mizoguchi, Ophuls, and even Lucretia Martel. Lots of (old) first time watches to be thankful for but mostly, teaching first years over Teams and admiring their dedication to film has given me hope for both industry and criticism. We can mourn the past all we want but the future is not lost, even if it may feel that way. 

I am sending all my love to every single one of you all around the world. 

 – S x