Veit Helmer's Absurdistan

Lysistrata in Azerbaijan

German director Veit Helmer is currently working on a new film. The romantic comedy is being shot in a remote village in Azerbaijan and is about, among other things, a "sex strike." Vladimir Müller reports

​​The search for the right location lasted a year and a half. It had to be an isolated village, somewhere between Europe and Asia, where time had stood still, says director and producer Veit Helmer.

"I was looking for very specific things – cobblestone streets, small houses, a village with not only walls but buildings, with frontages and shops. Of course, that is a contradiction in terms – a lot of shops in a small village."

Urbane village in the Caucasus

The village of Lahic, approximately 200 kilometers from Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, located high in the Caucasus Mountains, was the right place. A village at the end of the world, which can be reached only via a 20-kilometer stretch of rough gravel road.

Lahic is actually very special – a village with an almost urbane atmosphere, although there is only one street. But this street is lined with one shop after another, the way Veit Helmer pictured it.

Helmer made his breakthrough in 1999 with his first feature film "Tuvalu." He was invited to 62 film festivals and received 30 national and international awards. The director/producer, who was born in 1968, began making films at the age of 14.

Sex strike as a form of pressure

The idea for the film is based on a brief newspaper article. In the Turkish village of Sirt the women went on strike in 2001; they refused to have sex until the men repaired the water pipe. "When I heard about it, I had the inspiration for a story in a few seconds," recalls Helmer.

In the film, a young couple has been waiting a long time for their first night of love. On this night, the stellar constellation will be perfect, the grandmother has promised, but on that day the women go on strike.

The couple has only three days – that is how long this stellar constellation can be seen in the sky – to bring water into the village again. Only this much can be revealed: they succeed in an unbelievable, magical, fantastic way – and not only bring peace back to the village but also make their first night of love possible.

Azerbaijan is not an unfamiliar place for Helmer. In collaboration with the Goethe Institut, he has been presenting workshops for young filmmakers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for years.

The film team in Lahic is international; the people come from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Iran, and, of course, Germany. "Unfortunately I didn't find a film crew in Azerbaijan; only a few people have practical experience with the film industry," says Helmer.

"Actually, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union nothing has been shot here at all – although there is a large film studio in Baku, but it is virtually falling apart."

A village out of A Thousand and One Nights

Not every European filmmaker is able to work here. There are no five-star hotels; you stay with the farmers. Sometimes the water is cold and there is no electricity, says Veit Helmer. And how do the people in the village react to the shooting?

When you come to Lahic, you are given an incredibly warm reception. You can go into the houses, have a look at the yards – everything looks like something out of A Thousand and One Nights. The people are interested in what we are doing, and we try to integrate a lot of people into the various jobs."

The 21-year-old Czech leading lady, Kristina Malerova, is actually a stage actress, but she accepted the role with pleasure. She had already obtained information about the country at home, a small town in Moravia.

She encountered several surprises on location, however. "What drives me crazy is that women are so oppressed here. For example, I cannot say hello to a strange man and have to go around all the time with my shoulders and knees covered – in this heat," the actress complains. "But the people are incredibly friendly. It is just as great an adventure for them as it is for us."

The filming of "Absurdistan" is to be completed at the end of August. The première of the romantic comedy is scheduled for 2007.

Vladimir Müller

© DEUTSCHE WELLE 2006/Qantara.de

Translated from the German by Phyllis Anderson

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