Sunday, October 25, 2009

Movie Log: Absurdistan

In the Land of "Foreign" Movies -- that place primarily populated by humorous peasants of an ethnic group never precisely defined, whose words are heard mostly in voiceover (the better to dub them into a thousand languages) and who regularly find themselves in whimsical plotlines that eventually reaffirm the essential brotherhood, and unity, of mankind -- there is a district called Absurdistan. It would not do to concern oneself too closely with where, exactly, Absurdistan lies, in this German production filmed in Russian, but it's clearly in "that" part of the world -- away from the audiences for this movie, among the simpler people whom we either look down on for their primitivism or exalt for their simplicity.

There is a small, nameless village, presumably in central Asia (though it could be in Eastern Europe; all we know is that it was in the path of the Mongols), where about a dozen families live far away from everywhere else. The husbands are lazy and lusty, starting each day as if they're going to work but spending most of their time in the tea shop and then coming home at night full of desire; the wives do all of the work but seem to be only very slightly less lusty. The men are, of course, much happier with this arrangement than the women.

In this village, there are only two children -- at least that we ever see -- Aya (Krystyna Malerova) and Temelko (Max Mauff), who were born simultaneously and married at the age of eight. Now, they're in their late teens, and thinking about the first time they will have sex. A fortuneteller determines the precise time when they should enjoy bliss -- it has to do with two astrological constellations appearing in the sky -- and they wait the requisite time, with Temelko going off to "the city" for education, or work, or something (this isn't entirely clear).

But the laziness of the men has extended to the village's water supply -- the water comes via a long pipeline through the nearby mountains, but has not been maintained for years. And the flow of the water to the village's one outlet is now a trickle. The men, of course, will not fix it, since they won't do anything.

And so when Temelko returns, Aya runs from him, and tells him they won't be having any sex until the water is fixed. The other women hear this, think it's a great idea, and make the sex strike general. Soon, the village is divided into two zones, and the lazy men are using their ingenuity to get to the city and its whores, only to be stopped by the guns of the women. (They never even consider the expedient of actually fixing the water pipeline, of course.)

Temelko mopes around for a long time -- the actor Max Mauff has a very mopey face, unfortunately, and there is barely any dialogue in Absurdistan, so he gets even mopier in pantomime -- but eventually does what he has to do. The village is saved, love is restored...and all but one of the men still haven't done a lick of work. Sounds like someone's idea of Utopia!

Absurdistan is charming, but just a bit too deliberately so. There's nothing surprising or unexpected about it -- except perhaps when Aya appears naked on a roof in what I'd been assuming was a Muslim area -- but it runs through its well-worn plot with grace and vigor. The movie does know that all the men but Temelko are useless, but gives it an Easterner's shrug, as if to ask, what can we do about it? It should not be seen with any thought of real gender politics in mind, but will be quite entertaining taken on its own level.

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