Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- The battle between the sexes rises to ludicrous heights in "Absurdistan," an attempt at comic allegory that stretches a thin premise to feature length. A film best suited to the international festival circuit, it might find a welcome at European-friendly fests before potentially securing a spot on overseas TV or DVD.

German director/co-writer Veit Helmer's principal limitation is not an absence of imagination, but a lack of focus in the execution of his fanciful tale. Childhood sweethearts Temelko (Maximilian Mauff) and Aya (Kristyna Malerova) come of age in a small village in the arid and imaginary nation of Absurdistan (actually Azerbaijan), where the men are famed for their supposed virility and the women known for their apparent compliance. Although most of the males are incompetent at the jobs necessary to keep the little community functioning, the women always are ready to take up the slack and get the work done.

One issue they can't address is the growing deterioration of the town's water source, dependent on a rickety pipeline running from a treacherous cave high in the mountains. Although the women entreat the men to resolve the shortage, their spouses are little interested in tackling the problem, even as the dwindling supply brings about drastic conservation measures.

Desperate, the villagers send their young men to the big city to study the water problem and Temelko reluctantly departs, even though Aya's grandmother has consulted the stars and set a date for the couple to consummate their relationship four years in the future.

When he returns close to the appointed time from his urban sojourn, Temelko unwisely squanders water from the town's meager supply for the ritual bath that must precede the couple's special night, provoking Aya to angrily prohibit any lovemaking until Temelko solves the water crisis.

Soon, all the village women have delivered the same message to their spouses, declaring "No water, no sex," as low-intensity gender warfare gradually begins to escalate, trapping Temelko and Aya in the middle.

While Helmer and his three co-writers aim for a lyrically comic tone, the inspiration for their script was an actual incident in Turkey. The story's anecdotal origins provide little material for compelling character development or inspired dialogue, relying primarily on voice-overs narrated by Aya and Temelko.

Helmer's attempt to craft an absurdist Lysistrata-like fable founders further on his tendency to favor small comic bits at the expense of developing the overall narrative. With two ineffectual lead performances and a supporting cast drawn from 16 European nations, Helmer's filmmaking skills aren't sufficient to the task of forging a coherent vision for the film.

A Veit Helmer film production in association withMedienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, FFF and MFG
Director: Veit Helmer
Screenwriters: Gordan Mihic, Zaza Buadze, Ahmet Golbol, Veit Helmer
Producer: Linda Kornemann
Director of photography: George Beridze
Music: Shigeru Umebayashi
Costume designers: Mehriban Efendiyeva, Serap Bahadir
Editor: Vincent Assmann
Temelko: Maximilian Mauff
Aya: Kristyna Malerova
Running time -- 87 minutes
No MPAA rating