Reviews and notes
2008 Sundance, Chicago, Karlovy Vary, Moscow, Montreal, Stockholm, Goa
2009 Ourense (Audience Award), Bari
Veit Helmer’s inventive, allegorical comedy introduces us to Absurdistan, a once beautiful, now utterly desolate, land. In a water-starved village, two childhood sweethearts, Aya and Temelko, await the date (foretold by Aya’s grandmother) that a perfect celestial alignment will bless their first night of love. An intrepid inventor, Temelko plans to repair the aging water pipe, but the apathetic older men scoff at his designs. The women, fed up with the men’s inaction, take matters into their own hands and declare a strike. No water, no sex. The gender lines are drawn, reinforced with barbed wire, and our young lovers find themselves on opposite sides of a fast-escalating feud. The imprint of Helmer’s imagination is ubiquitous. He directs like a kid tearing through his toy chest. Mechanically obsessed, Helmer filters life through outlandish, homespun contraptions. If Aya’s first night of love is to elevate her soul, in Helmer's world, the flight comes courtesy of a rickety scrap-heap rocket atop rusty barrels of kerosene. Brilliantly satirical (here are villagers who build an elaborate aqueduct, and then collectively forget how it works), ever witty, and dipping self-reflexively into a myriad of cinematic styles, ABSURDISTAN
contains the signature theatricality of Helmer’s many shorts and earlier feature, Tuvalu
. It’s a philosophic parable that glides weightlessly along (no doubt suspended by pulleys and ropes hooked to a donkey).
— Sundance Film Festival 2008.
From the evidence at hand, German writer-director Veit Helmer isn’t much at home in his own country, having helmed productions in Bulgaria, Portugal, Japan and Kazakhstan. The globe-hopping filmmaker is best known for his magical 1999 comedy Tuvalu
, about romantic entanglements at a broken-down bathhouse in Eastern Europe. Helmer’s newest offering, the tonally similar ABSURDISTAN
, finds him back on the international scene — this time in the Eurasian nation of Azerbaijan. The result of this cinematic sojourn is an inordinately enjoyable throwback to ’90s cinema when the foreign/art house environment was filled with films that were cute, charming, exotic and slightly naughty.
is set in an unnamed village stuck on some isolated chunk of Caspian earth wedged between Central Asia, the Middle East and Mother Russia. This dusty, backwater town was once revered for its lovely maidens and virile men, who — according to local legend — fought off the Mongol hordes. But that was an awfully long time ago. Now the town is crumbling and forgotten — unlisted on any map and unclaimed by any nation. And the legendary Mongol-killing men? They’re all slovenly layabouts who leave the women to do the work. At least there’s still one lovely maiden, dark-eyed cutie Aya (Kristyna Malérová). Vying for her affections is lifelong suitor Temelko (Maximilian Mauff). Dorky but sincere, Temelko believes he and Aya are destined for one another because they share the same birthday.
Aya’s astrologically minded granny confirms the fated hookup but informs the would-be teenage lovers they cannot consummate their passion until the stars are right — a heavenly conjunction that won’t happen for another four years. Resigned to celibacy, Temelko joins the village’s other young people on a generational pilgrimage to the "big city" in hopes of absorbing enough knowledge to save their backwards burg from its various and sundry problems. Four years later, Temelko is the only one loyal enough (or dumb enough) to return home.
Unfortunately, life in the village has taken a turn for the worse. The town’s only water supply, an ancient pipeline from the mountains, has fallen into disrepair. None of the town’s male population is enterprising enough to fix the problem. With no recourse left to them, the village’s women borrow a page from ancient lit, pulling a Lysistrata
on the menfolk: No water, no sex. This puts poor Temelko in a hell of a bind. He’s only got one week to fulfill his astrological, sextacular destiny with Aya. That gives him just seven days to bring an end to this stubborn war of the sexes.
is clearly shot on a threadbare budget. There are a handful of logical gaps and a smattering of technical errors — evidence that maybe Helmer doesn’t run as tight a ship as perhaps he should. Plotwise, the whimsy-heavy script (courtesy of Helmer and two other contributors) stretches its thin allegory to near-ludicrous lengths (and still barely breaks the 88-minute barrier). In the end, though, it’s hard to begrudge this enjoyable folktale-as-film. If the words "nice" or "little" don’t sound like too much of an insult to you, then this nice, little indie comedy is the perfect antidote to the encroachment of summertime’s violent, crude, overproduced Hollywood-built blockbusters.
- Devin O’Leary, alibi.com, May 2009.
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