In October 2013 my audio recorder captured the following words during an interview to the first Ethiopian graduate in nuclear engineering – the elderly professor Seifu Yohannes – now emeritus physics professor in the University of Harar. “All your dreams of wealth and unlimited power, all your dreams of disproportionate ambition; the satisfaction of feeling analogous to the gods, all your sexual impulses which you deem infinite; all these pharaonic dreams will be reduced to a series of cheap plastic figurines floating in the stratosphere once everything has finally exploded. The American dream will soon enough end up devastating you. Then you will return to your village with your tail between your legs. And you will wish that your old boyfriend or girlfriend – whose breath always reeked of garlic – will once again cover you in kisses and eternally care for your welfare.”
When I finished transcribing these words, CRUMBS was born.
– Miguel Llansó (Madrid, 2015)
With those few words Miguel Llansó was inspired to create Crumbs, his post-apocalyptic surrealist Ethio-sci-fi send up of a Campbell-inspired hero’s journey. And who’d a thunk that a young Spanish director, who films movies in ahmaric featuring the most unlikely of leads – a dimiutive, bodily-mishapen and very talented actor, dare I say star, Daniel Tadesse – could or would jump to the forefront of world cinema with a very singular, frightening and funny vision.
Crumbs opens with Candy (Daniel Tadesse) foraging around a bleak, tortured and strangely beautiful landscape. He spies a mounted retro-futuristic vaguely Teutonic knight, sporting a Nazi arm band. Candy knows better than to tangle with this dude and takes flight to the abandoned bowling alley he inhabits with his lovely wife, Sayat (Selam Tesfaye). All well and good for a low budget intro to the strange world Candy inhabits. He quickly realizes that he has lost his amulet, a plastic teenage mutant ninja turtle, which will soon be seen orbiting earth in the same way as the famous fetus of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the meantime, a quick backstory develops. Outside floats a gigantic, dormant spaceship. It looks a bit like a spark plug with a humungous plastic glove on top in constant salute. Hail Earthmen! This UFO begins to show signs of powering up – so much so, the bowling lanes in Candy and Sayat’s abode begin to start working. A bowling ball bumbles up from the ball return like a planet falling back into orbit. Shades of Godard’s coffee cup! Not only that, but peering into the black chute of the ball return seems to create a conduit directly to Santa’s workshop. At this point, Candy, a bit mixed up in mind, but sure of direction, decides he has to get back to the spaceship – because he’s sure he’s not of this Earth and must return to whatever alien world (as if worlds could be more alien that the one he lives in) that is/was his home. Dutiful and loving Sayat sends him off with a plastic sword (still in its original wrapping). He sets off on his hero’s journey. The sword is quickly and hilariously dispatched – to become more detritus floating around the Earth. I couldn’t help flash on the virtual weapons, potions and talismans that video-gamers collect on their own sub-epic journeys in game-land. Those things of specious and fantasy value that occupy time and clutter their own little universes. He crosses fantastic landscapes, ghost towns and industrial ruins (kudos to cinematographer Israel Seoane for his great eye) until he finally reaches… the North Pole? Santa turns out to be a fairly mean-spirited asshole, protecting himself with protocol – insisting that Candy should have mailed his wish list in advance – instead of admitting to the fake that he is. Beaten and dejected, Candy returns to Sayat to reconfirm their love. The spaceship takes off without him. And they live happily ever after. Or will they?
Llansó’s vision takes a surrealist’s strategy of connecting unexpected images and ideas, but fulfills a deeper and more substantial surrealist tradition of subversion of those very images and ideas, critiquing just about everything one assumes about the state of the world. He’s got a bit of an obsession with Nazism, which he fleshed out brilliantly in an earlier short, Chigger Ale (2013), which featured Tadesse as mini Hitler wannabe, who’s mocked and ridiculed by the denizens of his local bar. And when he finally attempts his revenge, by gassing the place, he fails miserably and is called into account by a statuesque dominatrix and quickly dispatched into the detritus of outer space. Llansó’s complete disdain for the isms, cultural artifacts, memes, tropes and assumptions of the contemporary world are totally refreshing. And the fact that he does it with such joy and assurance puts him in a league with Buñuel. And as for Daniel Tadesse – check him out. He’s got the depth, the chops and the experience (he’s worked a lot in theatre and film in Addis Ababa) and an amazing screen presence. I hope to see more of him, not only in Llansó’s films, but with other directors. Spread the word.