The proposition that human civilisation as we know it is coming to an end sooner rather than later is a concept ripe for cinema. The apocalypse, the end of the world, the changing of the guard, call it what you will but many filmmakers have gone to great lengths to deconstruct, both physically and metaphorically, numerous locations throughout the world and turn them into post-apocalyptic wastelands. It is strange that creativity thrives when the land is suddenly lawless again, a modernist take on the outlaw lifestyle born in the western genre and now brought up to date after society, as we know it, has outstayed its welcome.
So along comes Miguel Llansó, a Spanish-born director who has been plying his trade in Africa during recent years, with his new Ethiopian set surrealist motion picture, Crumbs. The film follows a gentleman named Candy as he sets out on an obtuse but seemingly important journey across a ruined and barely inhabited Ethiopia buried somewhere in the far future, ravaged by war (the title is surely a reference to the minute amount of people left behind). The love he has for his beautiful partner, Birdy, compels him across the jagged, desolate and beautiful landscape as he makes his way towards a spaceship that will take him and his unborn baby back to their home planet, pitting his wits against neo-Nazis and false prophets along the way. If this sounds weird then wait until you get dropped into this world; Crumbs is quiet, empty surrealism at its most challenging.
When a filmmaker is trying to create atmosphere, key when building a new world for an audience, so much is reliant on aesthetic tone and an original undercurrent. The visuals that Llansó frames for the audience very rarely crackle and nor do they pop but this is all done with a purpose in mind. The greys, silvers and darks greens that he colours his frames with make Ethiopia look cold and dull, dying a slow and inescapable death. The long, silent scenes punctuated by startling moments of suspenseful music are so explicitly drawn from other expressive science fiction masterpieces like Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Solaris that you can’t help but feel slightly uninspired but, nevertheless, the care and attention gone into establishing an immersive tone is impressive, especially within the derelict bowling alley that Candy calls home. This is not the Ethiopia that the world is aware of but it is an Ethiopia that many people will be eager, if tentative, to investigate.
Unfortunately for some, all the aforementioned care and attention seems to have been at the sacrifice of any coherent storytelling, making any investigation a seemingly impossible task. Whilst it is obvious that Llansó never intended for this to be a straightforward march into narrative classicism, there is enough going on here to warrant more orderliness. It is to be admired that, unlike the films that influenced Crumbs, Llansó infuses the film with enough humour and satire to get you on board with whatever Candy is trying to accomplish with ease; if only it were less muddled! Many of the film’s funny moments range from the slack jawed facial expressions of lead actor Daniel Tadesse, bringing small portions of humanity to an otherwise alien role, to the more satirical references such as the altar that earth’s remaining inhabitants can pray to being a picture of Michael Jordan.
However, whilst these moments are clearly played for laughs, there is also a deeper meaning at work here, one of the clearer allegorical leanings of the film. The western bric-a-brac of today being touted as the ancient and revered artifacts of tomorrow’s Ethiopia is a soft indictment of the impact that western culture on a primordial civilisation and rendering its culture obsolete. The character of the pawn shop, whose greed and dishonesty mirrors that of the reality shows seen on western television, is far more unnerving than the emptiness of Candy and Birdy’s surroundings and it is a shame that the confrontation with the faux Santa Clause who lives in one of the bowling ball machines is so understated and confusing because you feel as though Llansó does have something to say. Maybe once he has got over imitating influential, expressive films like Eraserhead and Stalker, he can find his own niche and create something truly unique, in both form and style.
Crumbs will be screening as part of Flatpack Film Festival in Birmingham on Thursday April 21st. For more information on all the films screening at the festival, click here – http://flatpackfestival.org.uk/events/list/