An intimate diary on the subject of ‘My Mexican Bretzel’ (Nuria Giménez Lorang, 2019)
At which point in time does my already abandoned diary become the place to dump work ideas? Today I am recovering it to record my experience of viewing Nuria Giménez Lorang’s award-winning My Mexican Bretzel (2019), as well as her participation at The Essay Film Festival 2021. Just as the film is constructed around the intimate diary of Vivian Barrett – a Swiss housewife of a well-of social class, I thought it appropriate to write my curatorial note in a similar form.
However, I wonder if this is not a contradictory idea that defies the status of a diary as a space for secrets, of intimate thoughts and privacy. But let’s not fool ourselves. When I was writing my diary as a child, I was already thinking of being read by someone, ideally a hypothetical adolescent niece that would find my dusty piled-up notebooks when I am no longer here.
To imagine being read by others, having a conversation across time with future offspring, has to do with our constant impulse for leaving a mark, no matter how. Nevertheless, the words I write today will not be read by an imagined teenage niece but a public audience. Does this change anything? It changes everything.
Vivian Barrett would not have talked about vulnerability, if she had known that 70 years later her niece would publish her diaries. Nuria Giménez would not have given a voice to a woman she never met if she did not chase a communicative desire. I wonder to whom a 50-year-old housewife without children writes.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Vivian. I look for her in the most unexpected places, in the places in which I believe she should live. For example, it happened to me while re-reading Silvia Federici’s seminal proclamation “Wages Against Housework” (1979). It has always been difficult for me to perceive Vivian Barrett as a devoted housewife, and I realised that this is due to her elevated social position. The images in the film do not skimp in the portrayal of luxury: cars, boats, multiple foreign travels. They are the recreational experiences that sustain moments of happiness stuffed in the archive of the Swiss family. However, if I (only momentarily) discard the issue of social class, Vivian scrupulously complies with her social role as a feminine member in a married couple in the 1950s.
First of all, she constructs her personal narrative in accordance to her husband’s. Although we witness a luminous exercise of self-narration, the deployment of her feelings is, to a large extent, produced as an answer to those of Léon. Secondly, Vivian possesses something that is intrinsic to the condition of being a housewife: she fights back against her discontent, but solely from the private sphere, in her case, her diary.
The problem, as defended by Federici in 1979, resides in how to ‘take this struggle out of the kitchen or bedroom and into the streets’. Vivian represents a generation that uncovers the fraud sold to women in the name of love, when understanding that the denial of desire does not have to form part of the marriage agreement. As a matter of fact, she assumes this with such conviction that she decides to give into this ‘fraud’; she becomes part of the eternal fiction of the ideal bourgeois marriage. To reinforce such a narrative, the film’s argument is affected by the discovery of ‘Lovedyn’, a miraculous medicine in which Léon Barrett has invested and, similarly to how Vivian immerses in the philosophy of a Indian guru Paravadin Kanvar Kharjappali, acts as an invigorating antidepressant that allows to move forward.
One last trait that portrays Vivian as a perfect housewife: she always smiles as if there is no tomorrow. She smiles, and smiles and smiles. Federici stated that housewives should be paid for smiling. Nuria Giménez says that she found the spark for her film, when she viewed the footage over and over again, she noticed a faint gesture behind the never-ending smile. The desire to discover that vulnerability drove Giménez to invent a different life for the woman in those images. This is her way of fighting back. Giménez displaces the struggle and ‘takes it out of the kitchen and into the streets’, she constructs a narrative for her grandmother that is both public and autonomous, and whose agency emerges as a vengeance of past experiences.