Film: "Absurdistan" opens tonight at Opera Plaza Cinema

Villagers

[The sexes face off, with the lovely Aya (Kristyna Malerova) leading the ladies. Courtesy First Run Features.]

Men will do anything for sex; anything, that is, except what their wives want them to do. On the other hand, an unmarried man will really do anything — anything at all, just name it! — to win over the love of his life, no matter how outrageous his lover’s demands may be. These ancient facts get a delightful spin in Absurdistan, a takeoff on the classical Greek comedy Lysistrata that has nothing whatsoever to do with the best-selling novel.

It’s set in a remote mountain village “located on no map,” although with its Russian provenance and shooting location in Azerbaijan, the smart money is on some vowel-poor corner of the Caucasus. The narrator explains the village’s political situation at the outset: “for a long time now, nobody has felt responsible for us.” So when their water pipeline finally rusts through and a severe water shortage begins, it’s up to the men to fix it.

Only, they’re just too damn lazy to do anything about it: they’d rather spend their afternoons hanging out in the village tea house, playing cards and talking big. The women don’t know what to do.

That is, until Aya (Kristyna Malerova) shows them the way. Her fiancee, Temelko (Maximilian Mauff, no kidding), is a bright young man, freshly returned to the village from his studies in the city. He’s also been waiting longer than four years to sleep with his sweetheart for the first time, the propritious date having been astrologically ordained. When he arrives, he’s raring to go; but Aya insists on having a bath first. (Women! I mean, really.) So Temelko goes to some trouble to get together enough water for a bath. I don’t want to spoil the sequence — one of the best in the film — so I’ll just say that he gets her to the bath in the most imaginatively romantic way. But after she’s gotten over her delighted surprise, she notices the dusty, dry village around them, thinks of the others, and folds her arms. They have six days until the stars move on, she points out, and bath or no bath, until everybody has water, she’s keeping her clothes on, thank you very much.

“Did you hear about Aya and Temelko?” soon becomes the topic of whispering all over the village. In this, the women see a way forward, and the plan becomes clear: No water? No sex. They throw down their empty pails in challenge.

Of course, middle-aged men are generally more tolerant of sexual frustration than young men; plus, they have their pride. And these guys, frankly, have little else. So they dig in. Battle lines are drawn. The women arm themselves with rifles and guard the perimeter to prevent anybody leaving, and they cut the phone line (yes, singular) to prevent any contact with the outside world. The village is split down the middle with a barbed-wire fence. The men send in a spy, in wig and stuffed bra, who promptly forgets his allegiances and begins fraternizing with the (incredibly unobservant) enemy. Things only get wilder from there.

But the pipeline? Still broken. Temelko is on his own. So he sets forth for the mountain with a little red wagon-ful of tools, determined to bring water to the village and sleep with his bride to be, or die trying.

It’s a cliche to describe a film as a “delightful romp,” but it seems to suit this movie perfectly, what with its high energy, sexual hijinks, slapstick humor, and the touch of surrealism that director Veit Helmer brings to every moment. Highly recommended.

[Absurdistan screens at the Opera Plaza Cinema daily at 7:15 and 9:55, matinees at 1:50 and 4:40.]

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