BERLIN, Feb. 11 — It’s hard to resist the tickle of a good movie title, no matter how the movie itself stacks up. Such was my take on Absurdistan, a comedy screening at the Berlinale’s European Film Market which, absurdly enough, I didn’t manage to see despite the lure of its logline: Two childhood sweethearts in a village in Central Asia find their first night of love threatened when the local women go on a sex strike after the men refuse to attend to the town’s water shortage.
Think Lysistrata comes to Borat-ville.
“The women say no sex until you fix the water pipes, so the men have to invent something to get the women back into bed,” reveals Veit Helmer, the movie’s puckish director, producer and co-writer.
The 40-year-old Helmer (a nifty name for a director, now that we’re talking about loglines) took a gaggle of actors from 16 countries to Azerbaijan to shoot the film back in 2007, and the gamble paid off with a strong German opening in movie theaters here last fall.
“Veit’s terrific at promoting his own agenda,” said a festival regular who has followed his career. That was clearly in evidence the day I ran into him at the Sony Center’s multiplex in Potsdamerplatz, trying to get filmgoers to ditch their scheduled screenings and catch his instead . “Why do you want go see that silly movie about tango?” he prodded one critic lining up in the lobby, “when my movie has a sex strike!”
According to my friend and Berlin film writer Ron Holloway, Helmer’s talent is nothing to laugh at. “His influences as a filmmaker are very diverse and serious, actually,” Ron insisted. “He’s one of the brightest spots on the German film scene.”
Word of mouth on Absurdistan (no relation to the novel by Gary Shtevngart of the same name) has been pretty strong, but the words out of Helmer’s own mouth are the best of all. What, I inquired of him, were the relations between the sexes like on the set of his movie? Did they, ahem, mirror his story in any way?
“The shoot was a little bit different,” mused Helmer, who spilled plenty of behind-the-scenes beans in his award-winning 2007 doc Behind The Couch: Casting in Hollywood. “People after hours did not have sex strike, and we already have two babies from the shoot. And two marriages. So I am very proud of this movie.”