The Ruins and the Memory

in 13th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Pablo Garcia Conde

Ungiven (Imena visnje) by Branko Schmidt is set in Croatia some time after the war, where an old couple return to their house in the countryside. Over a year, we see how the grumpy husband and his absent-minded wife start a new life on the ruins of the past. An old farm has to be restored in order to recover what has been interrupted by exile. Therefore, with an authoritarian character, the husband prepares everything so they live their lives as should be. But not everything remains; there is something missing, so the couple must learn to live in a different way. One – with the misfortune of disease; the other – with an intolerant behavior that has to change to acceptance.

Unfortunately, the moment of return is also the moment of decline. The habitual tasks that the woman used to do become, before the spectators’ eyes, the symptom of her disease. The old lady bakes bread, but she forgets to put salt on it; she confuses the sugar with the salt and ruins the stew for lunch; she goes to milk the cow and forgets to take the bucket when it is full… Little details that accumulate in the narration provide a deep sense of the role of memory.

What the film shows are the quotidian moments on the farm, such as preparing meals, rebuilding the shed, collecting water from the well or taking care of the fire-place. He is always worried thinking about his farm and working hard to restore his home. He is usually tough and loses his patience easily with his wife. The old lady, in contrast, seems to be calmer and more obedient, even if a couple of times she bursts out against the rough manners of her husband.

Through the repetitions the narration shows the normality of life on the farm and makes more noticeable the little abnormalities that permit the story to progress. These abnormalities are caused by the woman’s growing memory which the husband takes a long time to realize and to act accordingly. And only when it is too late, he seems to accept that nothing will be as it used to be.

The brilliance of the film consists of the simplicity of a story told with finesse, respect and moderation. It does not hide the problem, but shows it from the very beginning. The old couple is in a car coming back to the farm and the woman cries quietly. Her husband realizes this, but does not say a word. Nostalgia for the past? Pain to recover a life that will not be the same? Or just the first sign of her dementia?

Ungiven, a rare but splendid production from director Branko Schmidt, deals with universal topics, such as memory, past times and past love; it does so with a simplicity that only great storytellers can achieve. Behind the disease, the rudeness and the pain, the most extraordinary emotion is hidden in an old song that the woman remembers and that means reconciliation with the matrimony, and perhaps with the past itself. Treated with amazing naturalness, the whole narration falls on a good montage and the astonishing interpretations of the actors.

Edited by Birgit Beumers