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East End Film Festival 2015 - Crumbs

Monday 10 August 2015, by Ryan Ormonde

East End Film Festival 2015: Crumbs (Miguel Llansó)

Last October, the Guardian’s Africa Correspondent David Smith wrote a profile of Ethiopia, 30 years on from its infamous famine. Smith describes a country of ‘frenetic urban expansion’, ‘an Orwellian surveillance state, breathtaking in scale and scope’. Crumbs, a post-apocalypse vision of Ethiopia from writer-director Miguel Llansó, shows us a country laid to waste. In the words of the apocryphal literary quotation that serves as a prelude to the film: ‘the survival instinct and the faith in the conservation of the human species had dissipated’. Historians consider Ethiopia to be the birthplace of the genus Homo, so it is fitting to imagine humanity’s last days in that area of the earth.

Post-apocalypse films provide an opportunity for a particular kind of humour that trades off the perceptions our future descendants might have of us, their ancestors. Here, the ‘crumbs’ of the title are mysterious and valuable antique objects, among them a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pendant; a poster of Michael Jordan, now refashioned as a shrine; a vinyl copy of Dangerous by Michael Jackson and a plastic toy gun attributed to Carrefour, believed to be one of history’s last great artists. Carrefour is in fact the French version of Wal-Mart, its name emblazoned on the toy’s flimsy packaging.

What is strange about this film is the sense of sadness that surrounds these misattributions. The central couple, played by Daniel Tadesse and Selam Tesfaye, imbue their possessions with more than just historical worth: they are sacred and auspicious signs. It is as if the performers are handling ancient tribal artefacts that have been replaced in post-production with tacky bits of plastic. The effect is to show how essential is belief for humanity, how arbitrary yet somehow vital are objects of faith and how the universal lie of culture is the only truth for humankind.

Events only get more absurd for Tadesse’s and Tesfaye’s characters, referred to as ‘Candy’ and ‘Birdy’: a quest centering on an old man who has adopted the identity of Santa Claus; an awkward confrontation with the mute operator of a ghost train; the goings-on of a seemingly haunted bowling alley. Candy does not have a conventional body shape: he is diminutive in stature and his bones protrude. In the language of the movies he is clearly an outsider, while Birdy is a Disney princess. All their hopes are symbolised by a daft, until recently decommissioned spaceship hovering in the sky, resembling Monty Python’s hand of God.

For all its postmodern panache, this is a languid and sad tale. The camera lingers on the faces of its protagonists, on the region’s extraordinary desert landscape, its lush vegetation and its forlorn architecture. Llansó lives in Addis Ababa but is originally from Spain and as such this is a view from the outside in (to compare, the first ever Ethiopian film to be shown at Cannes - this year’s Lamb - has been described as ‘made entirely from the inside out’). There may be a lot to read between the lines: for example, a joke about bureaucracy seems particularly pertinent in the light of Smith’s ‘Orwellian’ characterisation of present day Ethiopia. At its primary level however, Crumbs is a tragic, short treatise on the cognitive dissonance of humankind, our pitiful dreams and our meaningless objects.

Crumbs, Dir. Miguel Llansó, 2015
Teasers and trailers at https://vimeo.com/lanzaderafilms

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