Chinese director Guan Hu on Thursday offered the Venice film festival the most improbable of stories from the Sino-Japanese war, that of a peasant and a Dutch cow left to fend for themselves.
The odd couple were the only survivors from the massacre of an entire village by invading Japanese forces, the peasant Niu (Huang Bo) having pledged to protect the valuable cow.
The lumbering beast, much bigger than local cows, briefly falls into Japanese hands before Niu manages to sneak her away in the heat of a battle with local forces.
Man and beast strike out together to face a hostile world.
A product of the oral history of Shandong province, one of many local legends, the story is thought to be largely true.
In any case, the Soviet Union organised donations of cows from The Netherlands and Australia mainly to southwestern China and the Shandong Peninsula.
Telling the story of "Cow" required a tricky combination of humour and drama, Guan told a news conference. "Neither the funny nor the painful could be neglected."
Huang said: "I'm just a small actor, and for me this was the first time acting with a great actress who weighs 1.7 tonnes."
He described the difficulty of playing opposite a co-star who "doesn't listen to the director, and doesn't read the script."
The film, selected for the "Horizons" section in Venice, was shot in a remote location where people "still have vivid memories of the Japanese invasion," Guan said. "It was difficult to convince them that it was a movie and not reality."
The 11-day Venice film festival ends on Saturday.