"The Invention of Curry Sausage" is set in Germany during the last days of Hitler's life; the heroine, Lena, is the second person in charge of a dining hall that serves SS officers but she despises the government. her husband, a charming "scoundrel", according to her, has been gone, at the front, for five years without a word. During an air-raid, she meets a young sailor, young enough to be her son, who's onshore for a few days before returning to his warship. They end up back in her apartment, where she makes him a home-cooked dinner, gives him some precious pear brandy made by a friend, and, well, one thing leads to another. After a torrid night, Lena, an optimist who believes in living for each day, suggests that he could simply stay there, in hiding -- and he does. As the days go on, the neighbors become suspicious, but Lena keeps returning, like sunlight, to the locked apartment with food purloined from the dining hall. But the radio is broken, and Lena insists there are no newspapers, even after Hitler's death and Germany's surrender, so desperate is she to prolong the affair.
"If you were on a desert island and running out of food," she asks her friend, the chef, "would you blow it all on one big party, or stretch the food without telling the others?" He looks at her closely and answers, "I'd stretch the soup until all I had was a pot of hot water." She tries, but of course the war does end, and things change.
The actress who played Lena was present last night, and before the film she said she saw the movie as a celebration of life; I think she was right. But it was also about the lies people tell each other, even out of love.
As in many contemporary Iranian and Chinese films, the scope of the second movie we saw yesterday was small and not much seems to happen. "Nima's Women" is set in inner Mongolia, and focuses on the lives of an elderly mother and her younger daughter, who live in a yurt and herd sheep in a barren landscape beyond a large modern wind-farm where the bus from the city stops and turns around. An older daughter comes on the bus from the city to celebrate the mother's birthday. The mother's sadness is that, because of death and divorce, there were no men in the family at her last big birthday, twelve years earlier. The daughters are determined to change that this time, but they can't do so without weaving an intricate web of lies.
I love the gem-like movies of this genre, set in real places with real people as actors. J. was sleepy last night and less enthused; he has a hard time with Kurostami's films, for example, while I really like them. The life lived by Nima's Women must be pretty much like the film, and conveying its pace, as well as an evocative sense of place, was part of the filmmaker's intent. Each day is the same, there is little to look at, nowhere to go; what color there is is provided by the floral fabrics of quilts and headscarves; every task requires hard work, and happiness is playing with a pet lamb, having a drink of alcohol in the evening, or looking forward to a rare celebration. Human relationships, though, are just as complex on the steppes of Mongolia as in a top-floor wartime walk-up in Europe -- as the movie makes clear.
I should also note that we saw a memorable animated short film too. Called the "Bamiyan", it tells the story of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang's journey in AD 630 to see the giant Buddha statues of Afghanistan. The animation was done by painting on the back of glass or plexiglass, with actual materials such as grass and clay sometimes added, or water dripped and splashed onto the paint. I've always been fascinated by animated drawings and paintings, but this was completely different and new to me, and the effect was simply amazing, as well as beautiful.