Tag Archives: Veit Helmer

C APSULE: ABSURDISTAN (2008)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Kristyna Malérová, Max Mauff

PLOT: A young couple’s about-to-be-consummated love is threatened when the women of their village organize a sex strike against the lazy townsmen who will not fix the pipe that brings water to the hamlet.

Absurdistan

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Disqualified for false advertising in the title: there’s nothing absurdist in this shamelessly romantic comedy. Still, it’s an offbeat and often beautiful fable that’s kilometers and kilometers away from the competition in this most formulaic of genres. A good date night movie for people who aren’t idiots.

COMMENTS: Absurdistan takes place in a central Asian village, once famed among merchants traveling the Silk Road for its beautiful women and virile menfolk, but now forgotten by the modern world. Unburdened by cell phones, social networking sites and other conveniences of the modern age, the villagers have reverted to simpler ways—which is to say, they think mainly about sex. And as long as the men are getting it, they have little incentive to do anything else, since the women take up the duties of baking, herding, and farming out of necessity. They grow too lazy even to fix the town’s water pipe, preferring enduring drought and living in filth to the unacceptable prospect of working up a good sweat. Although sex in Absurdistan is used as a weapon, overall, the village’s attitude towards the dirty deed is refreshingly frank and seems innocent and healthy compared to our own: its importance is freely acknowledged and respected, and not hidden from the children like a shameful secret. This perspective gives the movie a tastefully lusty charm that’s reminiscent of its inspiration, Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata.”

The most unique aspect of Absurdistan is the scarcity of dialogue; background info is given via voiceover, but very few words are actually spoken by the characters (and except for the heroine’s name, no words at all are spoken by the male lead). This is partly due to circumstance; few in the internationally assembled cast could speak properly accented Russian. More importantly, as an artistic choice it gives the film an aura of timelessness and universality. With no verbal exchanges, the comedy is delivered silent-movie style, and isn’t always exactly subtle: there’s a bit where a man stuffs two watermelons into a brassiere in order to infiltrate the women’s camp. None of the gags are gut-busting, but along with the top-notch desert cinematography, exotic music, and assured storytelling, it’s enough to keep the audience well-charmed until the climax.

Director/co-writer Veit Helmer doesn’t skimp on the sentiment—after completing their quest to save the parched village, the young lovers are granted not one but two fairy tale happy endings with heart-melting, magical images. But the hearts and flowers aren’t slopped on simply because the target demographic expects it. In the service of an original, well-told story, Helmer earns the right to be a bit sappy, and we earn the right to enjoy it.

Helmer also helmed 1999’s Tuvalu, which features a similar streamlined storyline with minimal dialogue, but adds experimental film-tinting and more surrealistic touches and absurd humor.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a bizarre yet charming plot, and the overall ensemble insanity — like Amélie meets Dogville, though not as compelling as either — is curiously entertaining.”–Chris Bilton, Eye Weekly