A scene from “Bread in the Bones.” Contributed

Darrell Varga’s “Bread in the Bones,” his lovely entry in this year’s Maine International Film Festival, may well be the event’s biggest surprise. The film shows Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House.

The poetry, pleasures and politics of bread are what this movie is all about, and it delivers.

I picked Varga’s doc to review just because my friend, local baker and Railroad Square co-founder Stu Silverstein, contributes s a small vignette. Stu gives us a story that reveals the long-buried secret behind the Graham cracker, one of the pleasures of my childhood. Invented by the Reverend Sylvester Graham, it aimed to give young boys, well, something else to do.

Writer/director Varga takes us on a visual journey back to the first piece of bread baked in a cave, right up to the ciabatta roll that may enhance your modern fast-food burger. His moving doc, lovingly created, tells stories from every corner of the planet, and for good reason. Much of human history, of revolutions and wars, grew out of a simple handful of flour, water, salt, and yeast (we get to know a lot about yeast.)

From France, we learn that bread was at the center of the French Revolution. The starving crowds weren’t interested in Marie Antoinette’s “cake”; they simply wanted a piece of bread, a chunk of stale baguette if need be. They weren’t getting it, however, because the aristocracy controlled the flour.

We are reminded of the bread lines during the Great Depression, and learn of Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont. The film also briefly explores funereal practices in ancient Egypt, where the royal dead were buried with loaves of bread so they would have nourishment in the afterlife.

In New York, we meet the storyteller Richard Cardillo, the bard of the Lower East Side, who experienced “the healing power of bread” after his lover died of AIDS at the onset of that epidemic.

The richest sections of Varga’s documentary take a look at immigrants from Ireland, France, Russia, and other countries, who, in centuries past, got off their crowded vessels with hardly any money, and set about finding rooms with an oven — thus gradually popularizing European-style breads.

“Bread in the Bones” also gives us the young, lovely poet Emily Weitzman, who stands in a park in the sun and powerfully recites her poem about bread and sex. It will knock you out.

The 72-minute documentary, co-produced by Varga and Walter Forsyth, is an illuminating ride that evokes in all of us memories of our first piece of bread, and many subsequent ones. For instance, I remember that, on 9/11, I baked a challah. Bread is comforting that way, and somehow, so is Varga’s film.

Movie Info:

“Bread in the Bones”

Documentary

An exploratory bread journey from France, Germany, and Bulgaria to Vermont and…central Maine!

Director and writer: Darrell Varga

Time: 7 p.m.

Date: July 13

Venue: Waterville Opera House

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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