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Absurdistan

A wry, whimsical comedy about gender relations and learning to move forward

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In a not-quite-real country between Europe and Asia lies a small village inhabited by just 14 families, all of whom rely on one creaky water pipe. Poor plumbing leads to an all-out war between the town's men and women. Veit Helmer's film -- shot in Azerbaijan, with an international cast -- is a whimsical fable that can be enjoyed as a slightly madcap, slightly surreal battle-of-the-sexes comedy. But it's also a wry allegory commenting on similar (and larger) stagnant cultures, where bright youth take off for greener pastures, leaving the insular elders to grind even harder into their self-serving (if ultimately self-defeating) old ways. Here, for instance, the men would rather drink and brag of their sexual prowess than do any work. The women shoulder the burdens -- someone has to, however unfairly -- until their cooperation literally dries up with the water supply. The men shrug, the women initiate a sex strike (no more until the pipe gets fixed), and both sides turn the dusty village into a battleground. Only a pair of teen-age sweethearts seeks solutions. There's very little dialogue; a few voiceovers tell the few facts we need. But the large and small problems in Absurdistan are universal, making this offbeat charmer easily accessible. In Russian, with subtitles. Starts Fri., May 1. Harris

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