Don’t think for a minute that “Old Country” octogenarians and nonagenarians have one foot in the grave and the other on the banana peel. As I know from my own grandfather who lived into his late 90's and in the case of my grandmother, well into her 100's, as well as their siblings - my great aunts and great uncle - life gets more engaging, freer and filled with vitality after 85; especially when filled with work, friends and lots of laughter. But there’s another vitality that also still surges at that age - love, sex, romance and desire, not to mention a great reflective wisdom on the subjects that only comes with life experience - and as we quickly see in Agnes Sos’ latest documentary STREAM OF LOVE, through engaging interviews and day-in-the-life looks at nine villagers in a cobblestoned Transylvanian village (which boasts 25 widows) that’s a daily part of life and laughter.
With a beautiful lyricism fueled by laughter and the lilting melodies of the accordion, you can’t watch STREAM OF LOVE and not smile with each of the nine wonderful villagers we meet. Hidden away in the Carpathian Mountains, the village looks as if a design for illustrations by the Grimm Brothers and each of Sos’ subjects just as charming, be they alone or as we so often see, together, laughing and reminiscing. As the camera captures them during their daily chores still harvesting grain, kneading mounds of dough, tending wood burning stoves or driving a horse driven cart down the cobblestoned Main Street, they enchant us. But when talk turns to love and sex, look out!
With Sos gaining their trust, we meet women like Tercsi and Julianna who open up for the camera, recalling their wedding nights, falling into peels of infectious laughter as they regale tales of simple wooden beds with straw mattresses that collapsed under the weight of connubial bliss 75 years ago, or describing sex “like being stabbed in the back with a knife” or being so shy they kept climbing or rolling out bed away from their husbands. Others tell animated tales of catching a spouse entangled in extramarital affairs while hiding in a pantry. And just wait until they describe orgasms at 80; especially the women. (Who knew all the ways lard can be used!) Societal observations of days gone by are told with a waggling finger, “they didn’t moan [during sex]” while tales of being chased by the master in homes were they once worked as cooks and housekeepers are rollicking, dimming the youthful fears the women may have had at the time. Now imagine it’s your grandparents telling you these stories!
While astutely told by some of the men, “I wish my ability would last as long as my desire”, another brags that at 90+ he “can still handle women, just one by one”. As humorous as are some of the tales within STREAM OF LOVE, others are touching and telling of days gone by and an era gone with the wind. One widower speaks of caring for his paralyzed wife for 2 years. “I would gather red forest strawberries in a little box for her and come home and make her chicken soup.” Despite the devotion, one night the wife tells him “I could never stand you.” You see the pain in his face, but the matter of fact “this is life” tone in his voice.
As deftly as the camera captures a toothless smile, in full focus and peripherally the lens also sees snippets of the past with embroidered table clothes and chair covers, tatted doilies on armchairs, boxes of yellowed photos, painting a beautiful richly textured portrait, giving us a deeper understanding of these elders. Showcasing the green grass, tall trees and blue skies of this still vibrant village high in the Carpathian Mountains, STREAM OF LOVE transports through time, imbuing and invigorating us with the vitality of these people and this life. This is joy personified. Perhaps summing up the documentary itself is the philosophy of Veronka who opines, “No matter how old I am, I’ve always loved what’s good and beautiful.”
STREAM OF LOVE is good and beautiful.
Hungarian with English subtitles
Writer/Director Agnes Sos
(Los Angeles Film Festival 2014 review)