Monday, February 18, 2008

Window on Eurasia: ‘Absurdistan’ is Not about Azerbaijan, Film’s Director Points Out

Paul Goble

Baku, February 18 – “Absurdistan,” a joint German-Azerbaijan movie which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival last month, has nothing to do with Azerbaijan, Gary Shteyngart’s 2006 novel of the same name, or “Borat,” the American film that made fun of Kazakhstan, according to its director and others involved in its production.
Instead, it is a comedy, suggested by a 2001 newspaper article and set in a Turkish village, and tells the story of a young couple there when the women of the town, fed up with carrying water, refuse to sleep with their husbands until the men dig a well (
And the film’s director and writer, Veit Helmer, not only included a statement in the title sequence at the beginning of the film itself that none of the events portrayed in it refers to Azerbaijan in particular but also has been at pains to make that point in his meetings with the press.
Nonetheless, because of Shteyngart’s book, Borat’s movie, and Azeri financial and artistic involvement in the film, some in the West and Azerbaijan itself have suggested that it is about Azerbaijan and that it demeans both the country and its people (
To underscore the baselessness of such suggestions, Azerbaijan’s Day.Az portal today featured an interview with Rashida Beybutova, who had doubts about the film project originally but then actively supported it, even allowing the voice of her late father to be used on the soundtrack (
Beybutova said that she and her family were initially “very cautious” about agreeing to allow the film to feature the voice of her father given the title and the risk that it could “present our country in an unfavorable light.” But after viewing it, she and everyone else agreed that it was a beautiful film.
Not only does the film not contain “a single word about Azerbaijan,” she pointed out, “but in its finale there is a scene where the residents of the village who have become reconciled go to a Christian church in order to pray together.” The director added this, she said, to show that “the picture is not about Muslims.”
Despite all this and Beybutova’s own recommendation that everyone should go to see this beautiful movie when they the chance, at least some in Azerbaijan may continue to be offended and others elsewhere may hope to exploit the film against Azerbaijan because each group has drawn conclusions not based on the facts of the case.

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