In the future, Santa Claus lives in the ball return of a defunct bowling alley.
In the future, plastic toys are traded and collected by antiques dealers who know their Mattel lore.
In the future, humanity is taunted by a floating, rusting, space ship, just out of reach, and the promise of a ticket to board is the inspiration for epic quests.
These are the visions of the future in the Ethiopian film Crumbs.
A title card overexplains the setting, a future earth with a human population dwindling “like a candle going out.” Occasionally a child is conceived in carelessness, says the title, and adults shake their heads as if at out-of-style clothing.
In this bleak future world, Candy (Daniel Tadesse) is a scavenger. He’s a little person with Einstein hair and a hunchback deformity. He dresses neatly in brown shirt and pants, but nothing can tame that hairdo.
He lives with his girlfriend Birdy (Selam Tesfayie), whose youth and beauty (and perfectly clean, white, lacy bra) are a stark contrast to Candy’s asymmetrical appearance.
There is the barest wisp of an arc to the film’s story: Candy wants tickets on the space ship. He sets out to find someone who can procure them — first a witch, then later, Santa Claus.
That plot is enough to justify many scenes along the way, most of which are more interesting than the whole. Candy tries to drive an old rusty train whose conductor looks like he just lost a fistfight. He finds an abandoned ferris wheel that still works, and walks past a lion still in a cage.
When Candy or Birdy need divine intervention, they pray at their shrine to Michael Jordan, tongue out, “BULLS” written prominently across his chest.
Added to its surrealist bent, Crumbs has a ’70s vibe to it. It looks like it might have been shot on film, and the electronic sound design might have been the cutting edge, about 40 years ago. Even the editing has a stylized feel — not too quick to cut, with movement being carefully enclosed within each shot.
I’m not sure whether I’d ever seen an Ethiopian film before Crumbs. That’s not the best reason to choose to see one film over another, but I had high hopes. By the end I might have been disappointed by the almost tediously aimless plot. But credit writer/director Miguel Llansó’s unique vision and stylish technique for keeping each scene interesting enough to hold my attention. And at only 68 minutes, it’s a low-(time-)cost festival option.