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by Jay Seaver

"A unique and fascinating African sci-fi experience."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Science fiction films about a man on a quest in a post-collapse wasteland are so far from uncommon that entries in the subgenre need something truly special in order to stand out from a low-budget haze of deserts, abandoned buildings, and pessimistic philosophy. Well, "Crumbs" comes from Ethiopia, and it's a comedy of sorts. It may not be to everyone's taste, but writer/director Miguel Llansó certainly made something that audience have seen a thousand times into something of which they've seldom seen the like.

According to the "History Written for No-One" at the start, humanity is more or less dying out of its own accord,no longer interested in creating new life as its creations fail. That means hunchbacked scavenger Candy (Daniel Tadesse) has relatively little competition as he picks over the scraps of fallen civilizations. It not just his latest finds that send him on a rater quest, though - the spaceship that has been hovering over the land since the last war has become more active, throwing off magnetic pulses that briefly activate the electricity in the bowling alley and his beloved, Sayat (Selam Tesfaye), call home. He consults with a witch (Shitay Abreha), who tells him to let the train guide him to the city, where he will find Santa Claus (Tsegaye Abegaz).

It is actually stranger than that: As Candy heads toward the city, Sayat finds the alley's ball return turning on and mostly spewing out bowling balls, although the occasional variation is disturbing. A thrift-store owner (Mengistu Berhanu) may lowball scavengers on the pieces of 20th/21st-Century pop culture detritus they find even while spinning tales of how they were valued by the possibly-mythical Molegon Warriors, and it's not hard to see the thrust of that, at least - the effort our civilization has put into promoting its frequently silly and hollow pop culture and exporting it around the world means that it's what will last and be treated as having significance. It gives the film a world where Michael Jordan is still worshiped as an idol and Michael Jackson LPs can be a nest egg despite a lack of context for them, and where the myth of Superman is badly misinterpreted.

As much as the civilization Llansó has created is bizarre and often brings snickers, it's also kind of astonishing in other areas. With what is very likely a very low budget, he can't waste shots of the spaceship, for instance, but when it does show up, it's this delightful thing straight out of 2000AD or Jean Giraud's comics with an arm and hand reaching out from the top of the saucer grasping for the stars. The locations found and given new purpose have a unique combination of whimsy and heft: The bowling alley is eccentric enough on the face, but the ball return soon becomes a sort of reverse altar, and the zoo where much of the film's later action takes place may look better abandoned than when it was in operation; the thwarted ambition gives it the feeling of the wreckage of a great civilization.

Making his way through all of this is Daniel Tadesse. Given that he's not achieving Candy's shape with any sort of makeup or deceptive body language, it's almost inconceivable that he'd be given this sort of leading-man role in even independent films elsewhere, but he's much more than a curiosity; while his acting may not be the most naturalistic, the way he gets emotions across feels genuine in Llansó's world; he cares deeply about things in a time when many of the remaining people are detached, feeling the pulls of both a better place where he feels he belongs and the good things in the here and now. One of them, obviously, is Sayat (though I don't recall that name rather than "Birdy" ever appearing in the subtitles), and Selam Tesfaye is pretty good herself; she has a comfortable chemistry with Tadesse and brings an understated but warm and fretful air to the scenes where she waits for him. Barring the entertainingly angry work of Tsegaye Abegaz as Santa, most of the cast do restrained but effective work.

That restraint may be an example of what frustrates some viewers; despite Crumbs being a brief 68 minutes long, it still has stretches where it moves slowly, since there isn't actually that much story to it. Llansó's world-building is fascinating but he could explore a few more corners and still keep it tied in with Candy's story. It's not a crippling or necessarily troublesome issue like it would have been were the movie twenty minutes longer. And at the very least, he works with good collaborators; aside from the production design obviously being impressive, cinematographer Israel Seoane shoots it very well and the music by Atomizador is always an effective complement to what's happening.

Not having seen much (if any) Ethiopian cinema beyond this, I have no idea how typical the style is; I suspect that there's not enough African art-house science fiction to really say. That should make it a magnet for the curious, who will certainly find something worth talking about in it.

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originally posted: 08/06/15 22:08:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2015 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Denver Film Festival For more in the 2015 Denver Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Miguel Llansó

Written by
  Miguel Llansó

  Daniel Tadesse
  Selam Tesfayie
  Shitay Abreha
  Tsegaye Abegaz

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