Friday, October 23, 2015

Crumbs: Allegorical Ethiopian Science Fiction

Eventually, your Michael Jackson records will finally be worth something on the collectors market. You will just have to survive at least one apocalypse, maybe two. This post-post-apocalyptic Ethiopia might look like a strange land to us, but the diminutive, stoop-shouldered Candy is not particular comfortable with it either in Miguel Llansó’s evocative DIY SF minimalist epic Crumbs (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

This is a post-industrial, post-everything world, but there are still flashes of power thanks to occasional electromagnetic pulses emanating from the dead-or-hibernating space craft hovering overhead. It happens quite frequently in the abandoned bowling alley, where Candy lives with his beloved Birdy. He is convinced the hulking mothership is rebooting and will soon be leaving for its home planet. Candy wants a seat on that flight, so he will embark on a cross-country quest to find the man who can fulfill his wish: Santa Claus.

It is easy to get distracted by Llansó’s clever cultural anachronisms, like Candy’s talisman, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurine and the Michel Jordan altar Birdy worships at. However, Crumbs is thoroughly marinated in Joseph Campbell. It is absolutely a hero’s journey in the Pilgrim’s Progress tradition. Sometimes it does not make ironclad logical sense, but the background for Candy’s quest is truly stunning. Although it was shot in the Northern Ethiopian ghost town of Dallol and the surrounding terrain of salt marshes and lava formations, Llansó could claim he filmed on Mars and most people would believe him.

Despite his delicate appearance, Daniel Tadesse is a powerful presence as Candy. He is an everyman’s underdog, yet he forges some acutely sensitive romantic chemistry with Selam Tesfaye’s Birdy. Frankly, it is pretty impressive they can withstand Llansó’s awesomely surreal visuals.

Even at its economical sixty-minute running time, Crumbs’ narrative still manages to get confusingly oblique at times. However, the fantastical dreamscapes (dramatically framed by cinematographer Israel Seooane) and Tadesse’s quiet intensity always hold our attention. It might be premature to herald the golden age of Ethiopian science fiction, but Crumbs and Andy Siege’s Beti and Amare suggest there is a promising genre zeitgeist brewing there. Recommended for fans of Jodorowsky and Tarkovsky, Crumbs opens today (10/23) in New York, at the Cinema Village.