Presented by Iosu Ortigosa, baker of Lakabe.
Chile, Spanish, 1959, 27 min
Egypt, no dialogue, 1975, 12 min
Manoel de Oliveira
Portugal, Portuguese, 1959, 59 min
Did humankind domesticate wheat, or did wheat domesticate humankind? In the olden days, wheat was a wild grass that was perfectly capable of yielding and dispersing its seed; it was then made incapable and humankind starting threshing and winnowing, nothing short of a Faustian bargain. Then, some white men fantasised, alas, of turning the New World into some not-so-new fields of Castille and they filled their pockets with seed. Finally, Sergio Bravo climbed the Calquinhue hill to film the work made by dependent wheat. This is hard work, but it is easier than it could be thanks to a ‘group of helping hands’, el mingaco, a system of cooperative labour. Friends and family take part in harvesting, threshing and winnowing. The title reveals that the threshing season is the grand event, both socially and cinematographically speaking: the single women find a husband (as Violeta Parra sings) and the filmmaker surrenders to a photogenic herd of mares that turn without stopping and without implements, separating the wheat from the chaff with no more than their hooves. Like a serious merry-go-round.
During the harvest, said the voice in Trilla, ‘the kneading of the bread begins’. And that is how The Sandwich opens, fulfilling the promise of the film before. The women of Abnoud knead bread for their children, who are very small and who herd goats, living in symbiosis with them. This symbiosis, as Atteyat al-Abnoudy shows, is a state of grace. The wound of progress is barely noticeable from the railway line that takes tourists to the capital, and we will see one hundred children waiting for a train that, luckily, does not yet stop.
The train arrives, a sovietised Manoel de Oliveira arrives with Bread, a centripetal force, a film-tornado that incorporates the surrounding world into its movement. A world divided to infinity in which cinema unites without concealing the separation (of play and work, of work in senseless gestures and tasks like the cracks in a broken mirror). Bread traces the production of bread and when it includes what is left of the past in its present, the millstone and the sieve from The Sandwich reappear, the sickles and the cart from Trilla. But Oliveira is merciless with the past: he shows a windmill and then scorches it, like Zeus in the editing room; he shows a watermill and then questions the quality of the flour; the arms of a woman kneading in the trough are followed by the mechanical arms, relentless, of the flour factory. It is here, in the industrial cathedral, where Oliveira dallies, where everyone is an intermediary and everything remains mysterious in its nonsense, and he has a ball looking for the most exciting angles and the sympathies among things. He plays and works at the same time.
O Pão: Copy provided by Cinemateca Portuguesa