This week, Buenos Aires City hosts the fourth ‘Cine Cocina’ festival, a celebration and showcase of films about food.’Imaginary Feasts’, a beautiful and poignant film by French director Anne Georget, was screened on Tuesday 31st at the Alliance Francaise: The Bubble went along.
Structured through a series of interviews, the documentary tells the bitter-sweet stories of the recipes that were written and bound in concentration camps across the first half of the Twentieth Century, from the Nazi concentration camps of Ravensbruck, Flöha and Leipzig – in Germany – and the Soviet Gulag of Potma, to the Japanese war camps of Kawasaki and Bilibid. Scratched in pencil and hand stitched together, these recipes form an oxymoronic artefact: through the richest resplendence of cuisine, they evoke the harshest deprivation and starvation conceivable. In the words of André Bessière, who was interned in the German camp of Flöha, “they ate feasts of words, because they were dying of hunger”.
Georget’s Imaginary Feasts is a film built on contrasts – warmth and cold, hunger and satiation, fantasy and reality. Cold-toned shots of the now abandoned camps and snowy fields punctuate footage of warm kitchen-hearth sides and cosy book-lined rooms, as historians, psychoanalysists, philosophers, neurologists and writers leaf through the recipes. A woman’s voice whispers of ‘boeuf bourguignon’, ‘flan fromage’, ‘vanilla creme’, ‘cafe creme’, and ‘Petit Buerre’ as the camera pans pages-on-pages of aged paper, covered in neat, tight handwriting. Rather poignantly, however, the film does not include a single shot of ‘real’ food (out of respect for the minds that imagined them?) allowing the dishes to remain illusive, phantasmic; alive only on the page.
‘…FLAN BRETON, AND THERE’S COQ AU VIN TOO. THESE WERE MOMENTS OF HAPPINESS AMONG THE HORROR. WHEN WE WERE REALLY HUNGRY, AND WE WERE TORTURED BY HUNGER, WE FOUND PLEASURE IN WRITING’
One recipe in particular sticks in the mind, for it exposes the depth of hunger behind the feast of words contained in these books:
‘500 grams of sugar, 500 grams of chocolate, 500 grams of honey. Heat in a marmite for five hours’
‘You can’t eat that!’ object two historians as they sit reading the instructions, their incredulous laughter giving way to cheerless silence. The recipe, like others in the book, verges on the non-sensical, and sounds curiously unappetising. Knowing nothing of the writers who penned these recipes, we can only assume it was a wild, delirious fantasy, written in a state of unthinkable hunger. While many recipes in the collection are incomplete, confusing and hard to follow – like this strange honey and chocolate mixture – others are meticulously precise about ingredients and techniques. Olivier Roellinger, a French chef who once had three Michelin stars, sits in disbelief, repeating the carefully thought out details of the ingredient lists and preparation guidelines: ‘ginger..cardamon…’ and the list goes on.
‘Our Sunday brunch gave us the strength to survive’ one diary entry reads, ‘it was that important. We began to talk about magnificent dishes that were served at our family tables in better times. Talking about these sumptuous meals, we found our relief. And after this imaginary feast, we were, in a certain way, sated.’ Two psychoanalysts sit over these sheets of paper, trying to read into the people behind the recipes. The words, they say ‘work very well to make us remember – smells, tastes, the noise of the casserole in the kitchen: we discover it is nourishing. So, it is nourishing for the spirit, and for the psyche, but what we discover here, which is extremely paradoxical: it is nourishing for the body, which is to say it relieves hunger, relieves pain.’
As Anne Georget reveals, these recipes allowed a kind of collective remembering for prisoners, out of which came resistance in the form of solidarity, and brief moments of joy. Indeed, at the end of the film, Olivier Roellinger turns to his favourite page of the collection, 164, the last, blank one, which he describes as ‘pure potential’.
You can catch the rest of the Cine Cocina screenings at the Alliance Francaise located in Avenida Córdoba 946 over the rest of the week. All of the events are free.
You can book tickets, and find more information at:
2/11/17 – 7:00 p.m.
“Cooking up a tribute” by Andrea Goméz, presents Santiago Macias.
“A pastry shop in Tokyo” by Naomi Kawase.
3/11/17 – 7:00 p.m.
” The gods of the kitchen ” by Vérane Frédiani.
At 9:00 p.m.
” The vineyard that unites us” by Cédric Klapisch.
4/11/17 – 7:00pm
” The Artefacta” by Natalie Cristiani.