April 10, 2009

Absurdistan Filled With Romance, Dirty Denizens

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Water or sex: which is more important? In Veit Helmer’s Absurdistan, the women are on one side of the barbed-wire fence while the men are on the other. It doesn’t take a star-reading babushka to figure out who chooses what.
In the film, sweethearts Aya (Kristyna Malérová) and Temelko (Maximilian Mauff) have been destined for each other since the minute that they simultaneously entered the world together. As they grow from rollicking tots into teenagers, their world of innocent fun dissipates as the inevitable happens Temelko hits puberty. Suddenly, getting frisky has a whole new meaning as he chases Aya around the village and peeps at her naked body in the middle of the night. But there’s a catch: Aya’s mystic grandmother prophesies that they may only consummate their love when the constellations of Sagittarius and Virgo are aligned.
Meanwhile, the town’s local water-pipe continues to dilapidate. The women become fed up with their lazy husbands, who spend the day lounging at the teahouse until night-time comes. Only then do the men perform the one obligation that they don’t mind fulfilling — to uphold the town’s reputation for virility. Thus, the film turns into a stereotypical battle of the sexes as the irritated women declare, “No water, no sex!”
Unfortunately for Temelko and Aya, the line is literally drawn right at the start of the long-awaited celestial alignment. As the only sensible male among the primitive buffoons that prefer to call sex lines and plan field trips to the closest stripper depot, Temelko must feverishly work to repair the pipe. Otherwise the stars will move within five days, and he will forsake his own chance at sex.
The film is in Russian with English subtitles, filmed in Azerbaijan by a German director, based on a real-life Turkish story and boasts a cast representing over a dozen nations. The result is Amelie and Borat’s quaint but confused lovechild dealing with an identity crisis. Absurdistan tries to aim for the heart, the dirty mind and chuckles all at once, creating an awkward dissonance that is sometimes difficult to overcome.
Nevertheless, the movie has a classic love story plot that never gets old. True love will always persevere in the face of unconventional circumstances. And any girl dreams of a man who would save the world to win her heart (even if the world is filled with of dirty denizens, and her heart comes with a special bonus package). But in Absurdistan, the twists and turns are a bit wackier. Every detail and scene in the movie is ridiculous, from teenage Aya’s overly perky pigtails to the bullet fired from Temelko’s gun that just happens to ricochet off of every piece of metal in the village until it hits the target of a mobile game stall.
The film is almost entirely narrated via voiceover, further prompting the actors to exaggerate every movement. In order to overcome the language differences of his cast, Helmer relies on pure acting to make the movie cosmopolitan. The hyperbolic actions and facial expressions blend into a modern slapstick comedy that resembles the old silent films in its visual imagery, and the vivid color palette of the sets brings optical delight to the tiny mystical world.
At times, the movie drags with its never-ending shtick. You know how it’s going to end, so all the bizarre diversions become tedious when you can see the finish line but get bombarded with erratic obstacles in the forms of panty raids and Bacchanals. When the men scheme to insert a cross-dresser into the female camp or when Temelko straps Aya to a junkyard contraption to make her fly, you begin to think, are these arbitrary detours really that necessary?
Despite what its name may suggest, Absurdistan gives little indication of being serious. The guns are merely to ensure that the male lot doesn’t make a fuss in their celibate confinement. And any possible allusion to the tragedies of small country development is drowned in quirks and hogwash. Absurdistan lives up to its name — it is crazy and excessive but mostly in a tolerable and clever way. And even though hormones run wild, the film gives a sappy dose of warm-and-fuzzy romance. Its offbeat Slavic humor may not have you choking with laughter, but the film’s effervescent charm will undoubtedly leave you with a sweet aftertaste.