Ermo by Evergreen Entertainment

One of the great things about home video is that it allows you to see extraordinary movies that namby-pamby distributors refuse to give wide theatrical releases. 1994's Ermo, from the People's Republic of China, is just such a film, a must-see marvel by director Zhou Xiaowen that sure as hell didn't get its due in American theaters. The title character, a youngish woman who makes her living selling noodles in a town that seems really far away from her tiny village, is brilliantly (if diffidently) played by an actress named Alia. Despite the many scenes of Ermo making noodles, this is not some heartwarming Asian food comedy, as the company marketing it would have you believe. Instead, Zhou serves up a grueling tale of endless, painful work, cold neighbors, and uncaring families.

To numb herself to the harshness of her life, Ermo goes to work non-stop making and selling noodles. And here's what is supposed to be the funny part: Her only goal in working herself to death is to buy the biggest TV she can find so she'll be the envy of her village. I don't want to spoil the punchline, but Ermo does get her idiot box, soon after she realizes she'll have to supplement her noodle income by selling blood twice a week.

If your idea of humor is seeing penniless Chinese peasants transfixed by Western soft-core porn broadcasts on satellite TV, or jockeying for space to watch NFL football on TVs they can't afford in an empty department store hours from home, then Ermo is hilarious. Shot in a plain, washed-out style that belies China's reputation as a country of prettified films, this film is perhaps a comedy after all. Aren't all great comedies depressing?

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