April 9th – The Day of Unopened Letters

Not many people remember the name Roland Tressle, but it was his 1928 poem, ‘Letters From You’, from the collection of the same name, that later inspired the cult film Liar’s Regret (1960) by Fermain Jemsire. The festival today first began as a homage to the film by its fans, but has, in recent years, spread across the City.

In the film the protagonist, Hermann Ovili, decides that he is sick of his life and begins another anew, casting off his old name and family. He starts off as a barman in a new city, but soon he becomes bored of this too, and he tries his luck as a miner elsewhere. The cycle continues, with each stage of Ovili’s life being punctuated by short, silent scenes in which his estranged wife attempts to deal with his sudden and unexplained disappearance by penning him letters. In his new lives, of which there are sixteen, he commits a number of fraudulent offences and other crimes, culminating in the heat-of-the-moment murder of another lover who managed to track him down, which he is incarcerated for shortly afterwards.

Somehow, despite his chronic lack of responsibility and objectively reprehensible behaviour, Ovili’s innate charm, likeability and the plotting of the film have managed to keep most of the audience on his side, making the murder all the more shocking. The earlier crimes he commits are of a petty nature and have no clear victims who aren’t positioned as ‘deserving’, and as the film begins with Ovili sneaking out of his home we know very little of the life he lived with his family except for what he tells other characters about it, as a matter of defending his actions. With the murder we are shocked into the realisation that all along Ovili has been an unpleasant man who has managed to trick the audience, just as he did to the other characters, into thinking that he was decent and worthy. One reason for the film’s cult status is how this causes the audience to report an entirely new experience on the second viewing.

In the final scene of the film Ovili receives all the letters his former wife sent to him, a large stack tied up with brown string. He holds them close, smells them, and studies their exteriors closely. ‘Aren’t you going to open those?’ asks another inmate, sitting on a nearby bunk.

‘No,’ replies Ovili, ‘I read a poem about it once, see? It touched me very deep.’

‘A poem?’

‘Yeah, a good one. It was about letters. It went something like: The letters you sent me loom on the mantelpiece, more beautiful for being unopened, to not be confronted with their mundane reality, but have them forever say, “I love you deeply”’

It’s a little off but Ovili quotes ‘Letters From You’ almost in verbatim. As he says the words, the camera, which had previously been focused on the two inmates, a flip calendar behind them showing the date, pans over to the pile of letters and focuses on the top one, dated to a few days before. The date on the calendar says the 9th of April.

Today folks will set aside any letters they receive and endeavour to never open them, at least until the sender says that they can. It is seen by many as an opportunity to send messages to crushes safe in the knowledge that the sender will remain anonymous whilst still experiencing the catharsis that sending the letter entails. Admissions of guilt are also commonly reported by senders, and whilst of course nobody but the senders knows the true contents of many letters, presumably some are abusive in nature; comedian Hyacinth Reeves often performs a well-known joke in which she writes a hate-filled letter to her former boss, but accidentally sends it on the wrong day.

In 2009 the festival gained official recognition, and now any letters of an official nature which legally require a response or some action are considered null and void if they are sent today. It is a testament to the widespread nature of the festival that the conceptual artist Homoly Jonassor created a performance piece entitled Me Opening All The Letters I’ve Ever Received on April the 9th, which garnered great critical acclaim. Many of the people who celebrate today’s festival will not have even watched Liar’s Regret, let alone read any of the poems from Letters From You. Once the preserve of film buffs, The Day of Unopened Letters is now enjoyed by Buentoillitants across the City.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Holistic Educational Awareness Day
  • The Festival of Misremembered Video Games