Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Kin-Dza-Dza (1987)

Every time I look in despair at what's showing at my local multiplex or what is forthcoming on television -- finding nothing that I am in any particular hurry to view, I need to remind myself that there is a whole world of worthwhile cinema experiences out there.  One just needs to find them. This Russian film is apparently a cult item in its native country, but it is relatively unknown in the West.  I believe discs have previously been available Stateside and clips are available on You-Tube and the like, but this is a supreme instance of a movie that deserves to be better known.

From a popular director Georgi Danelia and starring a quartet of well-known actors (Stanislav Liubshin, Levan Gabriadze, Yevgeni Leonov, and Yuri Yakovlov -- no, me neither!), this is a hugely imaginative and enjoyable sci-fi/comedy romp.  Its 135 minutes running time passes swiftly, despite what appears to the Western eye as cheapjack movie-making.  It is a futuristic, post-apocalyptic fantasy achieved with little recourse to the special effects which dominate our films today.  It is also, if one can picture oneself in the pre-glasnost/perestroika era, a brave satire on communist society of the day; it's a wonder that the movie wasn't banned.

Two strangers on a busy Moscow street try to help a barefoot man who is either lost or drunk and accidently find themselves teleported to the barren planet of Pluk in the Kin-Dza-Dza galaxy.  They are temporarily befriended by two untrustworthy natives in a primitive flying machine, whose sole dialogue consists of two words: Koo and Kyoo (the latter is their expletive).  However the planet is technologically evolved and they can read minds and converse in Russian.  Pluk has become the slum area of the universe; all of its resources have been exhausted -- its rivers have dried up, its terrain is one sandy waste, and its cyberpunk inhabitants live largely in holes in the ground.  A wrecked sailing ship and a totally incongruous skeleton Ferris wheel are the few remaining hints of a once flourishing culture.  The land is moribund and its population faces extinction. 

 While our two mismatched heroes (a family man and a student trying to return a valuable violin to one of his professors) try to find a way home, they are exposed to the rottenest of class systems.  They are of course considered part of the lower caste; they must wear distinguishing nose-rings, must address their so-called superiors from cages, and must bow extravagantly whenever addressing one of the 'masters'.  Only their possession of a box of matches gives them any bargaining cachet. Mysteriously these vitually inexpensive items from our world are treasured in Pluk's strange society, a world without hope or a future. The most its lesser inhabitants can look forward to is to be transformed into plants on an adjacent planet, which is potentially better than being boxed up in a bed of nails should they fall foul of the planet's lazy and inept superiors.  To raise funds in the local currency to ease their journey, the two attempt to serenade the locals with their versions of popular songs and the odd American pop standard., accompanied by the now semi-destroyed and glued together violin.

I think you get the idea.  This is one very weird movie and one that could be recommended to the pickiest of sci-fi fans.  Unfortunately, however, it is not that easy to find, but well worth the search.

It's that time of the year again!  We are off to our FrightFest weekend running this Thursday through Monday, so there will be nothing from me until Tuesday the 30th at the earliest.  However I promise you then a thorough report on what's new and exciting in the realms of horror and fantasy and what to watch out for over the coming months.

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