Cinema Strikes BackContact

NewsReviewsDVD CalendarContestsFilm FestivalsMoviesPeopleInterviewsLinksAboutContact
Sundance Film Festival: Wacky Comedy “Absurdistan” Is Hard Not to Like
Posted on 02.04.08 by Charlie @ 12:46 pm

Sundance Film Festival 2008

Country and Year: Germany/Azerbaijan (2008)
Director: Veit Hemler
Starring: Max Mauff, Kristyna Malerova

Review By: Charlie Prince
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars (very good)

When director Veit Helmer took the stage to introduce his film Absurdistan at the Sundance Film Festival, he presented what amounted to a wacky 10 minute standup comedy routine about the fictional country of “Absurdistan.” Honestly, it didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was very good natured and in many ways it was the perfect introduction for the equally wacky (yet jolly) film we were about to see. Fortunately for the audience, the film was much easier to follow.

First thing you should know, the film’s title does not forewarn a heavy-handed political statement about why something or other about modern society is absurd, as some might have assumed prior to seeing it. The film is not nearly so serious. Just like Helmer himself, the film is out to have some good natured fun, and the title Absurdistan amounts to little more than a declaration that we’re in an alternate reality.

The premise of the film is a good example. In this happy town of Absurdistan, the men are extraordinarily lazy, mostly content to get together at the local pub and do little else but go home to make love with their wives — we’re told they take great pride in their reputation for having robust sex lives. But the wives of the village are more practical, and when the town starts to run out of water for lack of basic maintenance to their pipelines, the women naturally become very frustrated. The men, however, cannot be bothered to do anything about it, and simply adjust to a life of less water. As the problem gets worse they arrange to have one of the young boys in the village go to school in a bigger city in hopes that he will come home with a simple and easy solution. But, of course, without any maintenance, the pipes get worse, and when the boy comes home and is unable to solve the problem, the women of the town have just about hit their breaking point.

The boy in question is actually our star, Temelko (played by Max Mauff). And pretty much since birth, he has been in love with Ava (played by Kristyna Malerova). Up until now things have enjoyed a strictly platonic relationship but, now that they are teenagers, it’s clear that Temelko has only one thing on his mind. At the same time, they are also obedient kids and when, before Temelko leaves town, Ava’s fortune-telling grandmother tells the kids that they are destined to consummate their relationship two years from that day – they are resigned to this schedule. However, when the big day approaches a couple years later, the town’s water crisis threatens to get in the way.

While the men of Absurdistan waited for Temelko to return and figure out the water problem on his own, the situation becomes increasingly dire, as the water emerging from the town’s sole water pipeline has dwindled to almost nothing. In the interim, Temelko, having been sent to be educated in a bigger city and only recently returned to hopes that he will be able to (more or less single-handedly) solve the water problem, is also fully aware that the two year wait is almost over, and thus has other things on his mind, specifically Ava, Ava and more Ava. But when the big night comes and Ava sees that he has selfishly diverted the town’s small remaining water to a small swimming pool – all part of his plan for one extra-special night – she reacts with a simple proclamation. No water? No sex.

Absurdistan Photo

The women of the town, inspired by Ava’s somewhat accidental steadfastness in this mission, decide to follow suit, and now the men are actually paying attention, though they’re still too lazy to do anything. Before long a Monty-Python-esque battle of the sexes emerges. The town is divided into two with the men on one side and women on the other, complete with barbed wire and other silliness. The men send for help via carrier pigeon, only to have the message intercepted by a carnival-like sideshow operator who rolls into town with a “try your luck” game that’s almost impossible to win — like you’d find at an amusement park. The prize? A night with a lovely young lady he’s brought along with him. This of course pisses off the women of Absurdistan, who are nonetheless unable to do anything because the sideshow is operating on the other side of the dividing line that has separated the town into a men’s half and a women’s half….

You get the idea. And I really haven’t given much of the film away, as it continues to build from there, inevitably winding itself down towards one big, frenzied conclusion. After all, it’s not really about the fundamental story — its fairly easy to spot the inevitable happy ending -– but about the creative twists and the laugh-out-loud path the story takes in getting there. And while it’s certainly not the most “heavy” of film topics, it is very amusing.

One fascinating thing about the film is that it is told almost entirely via voiceover, and even then there is little dialogue. The director explained after the film that this strategy allowed him to be especially picky and to bring in the best acting talent from all over the world, since after all they wouldn’t need to speak a common language. The result is that the characters speak mostly by acting and through facial expressions. In the end you have a modern slapstick comedy, and while there is of course a fully-engaged soundtrack, the acting is good enough that it probably would work just as well as a silent film.

Keep in mind that while the director was extremely picky in his acting choices, this was still a modestly budgeted film, and these weren’t necessarily the most well-known or the most experienced actors avaialable to him (the director explained after the screening that Kristyna Malerova’s was a local theater actress, and I believe he said this was her first film). In any case, the director deserves a lot of praise for his casting — one way or another he coaxed wonderful performances out of the cast.

The director also explained that he went to great lengths to get just the right “look” for the film. He traveled to numerous countries over two years to find just the perfect rural village for the story, one that would be free of such out-of-place elements as modern plumbing. Visually the film is a definite success, though from the director’s discussion after the film, it sounds like in order to staff a full crew in Azerbaijan he basically had to train the crew on the job and get very creative with fulfilling basic filmmaking needs (his mother, who attended the screening, apparently was assigned the important job of taking the actual film out of the country in batches, seeing as there was no film processing lab in Azerbaijan!). Helmer also mentioned that they had to fly in the camera from Iran, since he was unable to obtain one locally. Apparently much of the crew was trained in filmmaking on location, and with Helmer’s obvious charisma, this is easy to imagine.

As for a deeper or darker allegory, you’re on your own. The director half-jokingly agreed with an audience member at the screening that “men are stupid” and explains that Hemelko is “like all men” in that he intends to do good but sometimes does stupid things. If there’s a deeper meaning to the film than that, I missed it. But still, there are some fascinating cultural implications given where it was filmed. For one thing, a film as brazenly focused on sex as this is an unusual topic for a film filmed in a Muslim country. At one point, in particular, Ava appears completely nude on the roof of a building in the village (apparently it took quite a lot of convincing and manipulating to film that scene without creating a scandal in the town where they filmed).

The good news for us film lovers, and especially those of you who aren’t able to catch the film at a festival, is that a film as enjoyable as Absurdistan is bound to get a release of some kind, and will no doubt eventually be available on DVD. As of this writing, I have not heard of a deal being sealed at the festival for distribution, but be assured that we at CSB will keep our ears to the ground and will let you know if we hear anything. When it does come out, be sure to see it. It’s whimsical and silly, but it had the Sundance audience roaring with laughter and I suspect even the pickiest of audiences will find it enjoyable.

© Charlie Prince

Additional Links:
::: Click here to watch a brief interview with the director and stars of Absurdistan, together with a few clips from the film.
::: Discuss Absurdistan with Others in the Movie Forum Lounge
::: Not registered for the forum? Click here to register!!

Filed under: Movie Reviews and Contributors: Charlie and Movie Reviews: Germany and Film Festivals: Sundance 2008

1 Comment »

  1. Sounds like Helmer was inspired by the Aristophanes play Lysistrata, where the women of Greece withhold sex in order to prevent war. I’m curious to see this one now.

    Comment by David — February 4, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>




Latest Movie News

WordPress database error: [Can't create/write to file '/tmp/#sql_c7f_0.MYI' (Errcode: 17)]
SELECT DISTINCT * FROM wp_posts LEFT JOIN wp_post2cat ON (wp_posts.ID = wp_post2cat.post_id) WHERE wp_posts.post_date <= '2015-05-25 00:04:58' AND ( wp_posts.post_status = 'publish' OR wp_posts.post_status = 'sticky' ) AND wp_posts.post_password = '' AND ( wp_post2cat.category_id = '2' ) GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 0, 5


* Shusuke Kaneko
* Malik Bader
* Nobuhiro Yamashita
* Sabu
* Johnnie To
* Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
* Bong Joon-Ho
Recent Comments
Dev: I think most of the obvious pleacs have all been used so much that
Anura Padeniya: The movie, Three Yellow Cats is available at Amazon with other Kommissar X movies, but
John Adams: MY TRIBUTE TO KUNG FU MASTER his movies are fantastic will miss JIM KELLY a
hans: David, you need to check your facts. Avid hk movie watchers will remember that Anthony
suresh: ramsay brothers plz make horror movie like veerana and tahkhana im huge fan of ur
Harry: Lot of homoeroticism in the film, as the retarded thugs eye off and grapple with
May: I love Death note and all about them. but, specially L. Lawliet and Matsuyama Kenichi. You're so
Michael Edgecumbe: Where can I obtain any form of copy of this film? It was shot in the
SANJEEV: How to get the site from i can download full HORROR MOVIE PURNA MANDIR could

Movie News
Hong Kong
New Zealand
South Korea

By Type:
DVD News
Movie Quotes
MP3 Podcasts
Production Info
Trailer News

External Article
External Interview

By Studio:
IFC Films
Milkyway Image
Shaw Brothers
Sony Pictures
Warner Bros.
More Studios >

Grind House

Adam's Apples
Casino Royale
Descent, The
Funky Forest
Pan's Labyrinth
Scanner Darkly, A
Superman Returns
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Latest Reviews

WordPress database error: [Can't create/write to file '/tmp/#sql_c7f_0.MYI' (Errcode: 17)]
SELECT DISTINCT * FROM wp_posts LEFT JOIN wp_post2cat ON (wp_posts.ID = wp_post2cat.post_id) WHERE wp_posts.post_date <= '2015-05-25 00:04:58' AND ( wp_posts.post_status = 'publish' OR wp_posts.post_status = 'sticky' ) AND wp_posts.post_password = '' AND ( wp_post2cat.category_id = '8' ) GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 0, 5

Movie Reviews
By Country:
Hong Kong
South Korea

By Rating:
Great ****
Good ***
Average **
Poor *

By Author:

By Guest Writer:
Mike G.
Mike M.

Cable Series

External Reviews

Argento, Dario
Bale, Christian
Chan-wook, Park
Cheh, Chang
Chow Sing Chi, Stephen
Craig, Daniel
Freeman, Morgan
Giamatti, Paul
Gilliam, Terry
Howard, Ron
Hark, Tsui
Jaa, Tony
Jackson, Peter
Jee-woon, Kim
July, Miranda
Kaige, Chen
Kar-wai, Wong
Kurosawa, Kiyoshi
Kuriyama, Chiaki
Lau, Andy
Miike, Takashi
Miyazaki, Hayao
Myung-se, Lee
Nolan, Christopher
Spielberg, Steven
Suzuki, Seijun
Tarantino, Quentin
To, Johnnie
Tse, Nicholas
Vaughn, Matthew
Yen, Donnie
Yeoh, Michelle
Yimou, Zhang
Ziyi, Zhang
More People >

  • 2014
  • 2013
  • 2012

  • RSS Syndication

    Add to Google

    Subscribe in NewsGator Online

    Add Cinema Strikes Back - Covering the World of Film to Newsburst from CNET

    Add to My AOL

    Add to netvibes

    Subscribe in Bloglines

    Add to The Free Dictionary

    Add to Bitty Browser

    Add to Plusmo

    Subscribe in podnova

    Credits and Copyright
    Proudly powered by WordPress. All content © 2004-2005 Cinema Strikes Back.
    Theme by Theron Parlin