Judge Daryl Loomis once drove through Existentialburg. What a downer...
No water, no sex!
Aristophanes wrote his comedy Lysistrata in approximately 400 B.C. Since then, this story of Greek women who withhold sexual favors from their husbands in order to stop the Peloponnesian War has been referenced in art and literature and has manifested itself in real life, such as in this year's week-long sex strike in Kenya to try to end civil unrest in the country. In Absurdistan the first film I've ever seen shot in Azerbaijan, director Veit Helmer (Tuvalu) takes a nod from the Classical play to tell a lighthearted tale about young love in the most remote of places.
Facts of the Case
Aya (Kristyna Malérová) and Temelko (Maximilian Mauff) were born on the same day at the same time and have been in love ever since. As their wedding day finally approaches, however, a broken pipe causes a water shortage that the townsmen are all too lazy to fix. The women, in return, go on a sex strike, refusing any and all sexual advances from their husbands until they have water. They're going to call of the wedding, too, so with only five days left until the ceremony, Temelko must become an impromptu plumber so he can have what he's always wanted: sex with Aya.
The forgotten little town known as Absurdistan is full of crazy people who'd like to stay forgotten and crazy forever. As long as the boat's not rocked, they'll live just the way they've lived for generations: eating, drinking, and proving their virility by having as much sex as possible. It's a pretty fair system as long as everything runs smoothly. Without water, however, there's nothing to cook with, nothing to drink, and nothing to take a bath in. That's a problem. As much a pursuit of water as a pursuit of sex, the tried and true story is Helmer's way of poking fun not only at the fact that the Absurdistani men aren't getting any but how quickly and totally the power balance changes as a result.
The refusal of sex and the laziness of the men could have made a stronger statement about the sexual politics of a post-Communist Russia, and it does skirt some of those issues, but Helmer has made a comedy first and keeps it light. Absurdistan is good, bawdy fun that is more style than substance and, while the comedy isn't always a laugh riot, the whimsical mood and insane situations keeps things bouncing right along. What's most amazing is that Helmer was able to keep things moving so well while featuring almost no dialog. A little narration carries the story at certain points, but only occasionally does somebody on camera have a spoken line. While people could, as a result, make the mistake that this is some kind of modern-day silent film, it certainly is not. While speech is scarce and the actors use some of the emotive styling of silent actors, the sound design of the film is too important to liken it too heavily to those old films. The ambient sound gives a clear picture of the setting. The noises the characters make in reaction to events lets us know what the characters are thinking. Together, they replace the need for speech. It's a testament to the directing, editing, and especially the performances that the film moves so quickly and is so enjoyable from start to finish.
First Run's release of Absurdistan is subpar in every way and the film deserves better. The image quality varies greatly, from decent to quite suspect. The film is beautifully shot, so it's even more unfortunate that the print is so grainy and filthy. It isn't so dramatic some of the time, which is when you can most appreciate the brilliant shots but, at its worst, the dirt is as noticeable as the film itself. The colors are generally decent, however, and the picture is bright, allowing us to take in some of the natural beauty of the setting, even if it's just for a little while. The stereo mix is a little better than the image, but unremarkable. Because there's such little dialog, Helmer was able to use an international cast, so much of the dubbing, like an Italian western, is pretty bad. There's not a lot of it, but you can really tell that most of the actors don't speak Russian. The only extra, outside of a trailer and a worthless behind-the-scenes gallery, is a short but interesting text interview with Helmer, who clarifies some things about the film and its reception on the foreign market. It's text, yes, but it's the best we have.
I didn't have any idea what to expect from Absurdistan, but it is a very pleasant surprise. The story is classic and the performances are fantastic. There's some light romance, a few laughs, and a little bit of erotic spice thrown in for good measure. It's very hard not to like this film.
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