The World's First Ethiopian Sci-Fi Flick
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
So much cinema gets sold to us as new. This actually kinda is.
By Michael Nordine
Miguel Llansó’s Crumbs may just be the best Ethiopian postapocalyptic science-fiction movie ever made. True, it’s also the first and only of its kind in existence. But that just adds something.
Set at an unspecified point in the future, the film introduces us to its world long after Earth’s population has begun to “decrease, wane and languish like the dying flame of a candle that barely resists extinguishing itself.” This depopulation isn’t the same existential threat portrayed in Children of Men, in which all women suddenly became infertile a number of years earlier; it’s more a result of, and resignation to, the ways our worst qualities overwhelm our better nature. Countless movies feature supervillains who justify their apocalyptic schemes by claiming that they’re actually saving the planet, not destroying it; perhaps Crumbs takes place decades or even centuries after one of them finally succeeded.
A rusty, derelict spaceship has been looming over the alien landscape for untold years. Possibly it’s a relic of the “big war” responsible for the sorry state of the world; no one can say for sure. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, toy swords and other ephemeral pieces of pop culture are revered as artifacts of the ancient world — which, really, they are. Folkloric backstories are created for each item: this plastic weapon was used by that group of warriors, the recording artist known as Michael Jackson may actually have been a farmer.
Sensing that the semi-identified flying object has somehow been reactivated, a woman named Candy alerts her lover, Birdy, to the good news. It’s quickly decided that Birdy must journey to it, dangerous though the road may be. The urgency of Birdy’s quest comes in part from his belief that he is of extraterrestrial extraction and that the dormant craft is quite literally the mother ship. He must first get past the neo-neo-Nazis and junk-turned-relic pawnbrokers en route to the final man behind the curtain: Santa Claus. (Or a guy dressed like Santa, at least.) Though humorous, these many eccentricities never lower the stakes Llansó sets early on — we believe in Birdy’s quest and want him to see it through.
Crumbs has the air of a future cult classic waiting to be found by an intrepid audience with an affinity for the absurd, but it doesn’t give the impression of intentionally courting that status via tacked-on weirdness. Llansó has crafted something ungainly and bizarre but also, more important, free of irony. (It helps that, at a mere 68 minutes, the film’s weirdness isn’t given a chance to overstay its welcome.)
The sense that this world is haunted by ghosts of the past and wary of the future creates as convincing a fictional world as the recent Mad Max, with a fraction of the budgetary resources. Both films represent the best of idiosyncratic genre pictures in similar ways, albeit on vastly different scales. The so-called calling card era we’re currently experiencing — i.e., an up-and-coming filmmaker shows his chops on a small-scale genre picture and is given the keys to the franchise kingdom — is beginning to grow tiresome, but it’ll be a missed opportunity if Crumbs doesn’t lead to more opportunities for Llansó. He clearly doesn’t need $100 million to make an inventive movie, but I wouldn’t mind seeing what he did with it.