Pop Culture at its Best

Dispatch from the LA Film Festival 2015: ‘Crumbs’

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It’s not clear what’s going on at the start of Crumbs, except for the info imparted via opening titles, that we are in some sort of post-apocalyptic world, where mankind has lost the urge for survival. A little hunchbacked man treks across a fantastical, extraterrestrial-seeming landscape, finds a plastic Christmas tree, spots a uniformed Nazi in gas mask and sparkly Mickey Mouse ears, and takes to his heels. This is the first Ethiopian surreal science-fiction movie.

Things don’t get a great deal clearer. The little man, Candy (Daniel Tadesse) is a scavenger of some sort, living with his woman Birdy/Sayat (Salem Tesfaye) in a decrepit bowling alley, whose machinery starts to work again by itself, at the same time as the rusting spaceship hovering low in the sky starts to power up again. He decides he must go and consult the witch, and then travel to find Santa Claus who, it appears actually lives inside a crumbling building that can be accessed via the bowling ball return machine (not that Candy is aware of this, and thus has to tramp across lots of gorgeous – and surprisingly green – landscape to get there).

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He meets a number of taciturn bods along the way (and that Nazi pops up again, though we are no more the wiser as to why) and loses a handful of talismanic objects – a Ninja Turtle amulet, a toy plastic sword, a Michael Jackson LP. Spanish director Mario Llansó (based in Addis Ababa) conjures a low-budget future partly through the pre-established depopulation, but mostly via the otherworldliness (and rusting hulks) of the Ethiopian landscape, and a somewhat amusing mythology connected to these tacky 20th-century (in the world of the movie, 3rd-century) objects, allegedly prized by ancient warriors.

None of this exerts any great sense or import, but the film is designed as a picaresque, to send the hero on a quest (turns out he is from another planet, and looking to have that spaceship take him home), and let us enjoy the journey. Tadesse is an appealing protagonist, and the landscape photography is lovely, but few of Candy’s encounters, until a rather unsuccessful meeting with Santa Claus and an unexpected visit to a cinema where a low-rent Superman movie has been playing for forty years, are particularly interesting. Plenty is left unexplained, to enhance the mood, one supposes, but the film’s success relies entirely on how much one is ready to succumb to that mood. It is an appealingly unusual, beautiful-looking film, which effectively conjures its sci-fi world with the slenderest of means; its obvious antecedent is Herzog’s Fata Morgana (1971), but lacking that film’s visionary transcendence, Crumbs displays dangerously actually to hold the attention.

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d/p/sc Mario Llansó ph Israel Seoane ed Velasco Broca m Atomizador cast Daniel Tadesse, Salem Tesfaye, Mengistu Berhanu, Shitay Abreha, Tsegaye Abegaz

(2015, Eth/Sp/Fin, 69m)

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