Studio: IndiePix Films
Director: Miguel Llanso
Writer: Miguel Llanso
Producer: Miguel Llanso, Meseret Argaw, Daniel Taye Workou
Stars: Daniel Tadesse, Selam Tesfayie
A mild-mannered man journeys across a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of answers regarding a derelict spaceship hovering in the sky.
Subtly surreal Sci-Fi/Adventure/Fantasy/Romance/Mystery amalgamation “Crumbs” marks the first movie I have ever seen in Amharic, which I bashfully confess is a language I forgot existed. Amharic is spoken in Ethiopia, which is the post-apocalyptic setting where misshapen misfit Candy spends his days scavenging and his nights sheltered in a derelict bowling alley with his fiancée Birdy. When a long-dormant, arm-shaped spaceship hovering on the horizon begins humming with magnetic activity, the odd couple senses strange changes afoot in their quirky wasteland. So Candy braves the desolate landscape in search of a prophetic witch to divine the fate of his journey and Santa Claus to grant him a wish for a purposeful future.
A beneficial boon to the African backdrop is that its casual unfamiliarity in the mind’s eyes of many lends itself to an already alien environment. Natural gnarls in rock formations and rusted ravages of manmade machines combine for concurrent beauty and sadness in creating an environment conveying neglect and underappreciation. Simple science-fiction has little need for elaborate sets or ambitious production design when visual textures of a seldom-seen locale inherently permit the palette to pop.
Channeling a “Gods Must Be Crazy” theme, currency in Candy’s world comes from repurposed remnants of a forgotten pre-war past. A necklace fashioned from a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy is a treasured relic of historically revered warriors. Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album is a highly coveted artifact, though not nearly as much as a plastic toy sword forged by legendary craftsman “Mattelo.” And before adventuring into potential danger, Candy and Birdy both pray for blessings from Michael Jordan, whose protruding-tongue photograph comprises the centerpiece of a deifying shrine.
By taking pop culture symbols out of commonplace context, “Crumbs” skewers the ridiculousness of idol worship with thoughtful humor. Imaginary importance once assigned to figures of fleeting stature has confused the future into honoring Stephen Hawking and Justin Bieber with equal significance. Taking the title literally, crumbs are leftover remains. In a case such as this, sometimes the things that stay behind aren’t necessarily the things that should survive.
Before biting the end of your eyeglasses and stroking your chin to chew on metaphorical meaning behind seeming symbolism, writer/director Miguel Llanso has a confession to make. At a post-LAFF 2015 screening Q&A, Llanso revealed that “Crumbs” was built chiefly on circumstance and happenstance. If the film reads, sounds, or comes across as often chaotic, confusing, confused, or incoherent, that is because it is.
Fascinated mainly by faces and places, Llanso dispenses with traditional story structure and cinematic conventions to favor experimental flair and artistic indulgence. Working less from a complete script and more from a disposable outline, “Crumbs” constructs itself with fluidity based on what seemed interesting in the moment. Llanso had a preconceived list of abandoned buildings he found aesthetically appealing and worked ideas from there. Casting was conducted by literally taking to the streets and searching for regular people bearing unique looks. If anyone had difficulty reciting lines, then that dialogue was cut. The inclusion of Santa Claus? That actor’s white beard reminded the filmmaker of Saint Nick, so Llanso thought, why not slip the fictional figure into the movie somehow?
It can be debated whether or not organic serendipity is a sensible way to make a movie. There is less of argument to be made that whim-based script changes influenced by facial hair are preferable for telling a cohesive tale.
“Crumbs” is a movie that fearlessly invents its own everything. Its own fiction. Its own logic. Its own cinematic language. “Crumbs” also has an oddly enigmatic lead in Daniel Tadesse, who is extraordinarily likable as a meekly quiet, unlikely wasteland hero. One thing “Crumbs” does not have however, is a story with defined purpose as entertainment or as art.
Not a narrative, “Crumbs” is an interpretive arthouse indie incarnation of a post-apocalyptic romantic drama; the kind of film festival fare that armchair academics champion as a refreshing thinkpiece. Consider it the movie equivalent of a blank canvas hanging in a modern art gallery, intentionally vexing so as to inspire analytical discourse. Like that empty frame, “Crumbs” is whatever you choose to make of it. Where one contingent shrugs shoulders at a plain white space, another insists on seeing ghosts eating marshmallows in a snowstorm.
“Crumbs” earns a noncommittal midrange score of 50/100 because I don’t have the heart to go lower, and don’t appreciate artistic ambiguity enough to go higher. Breezing by at just 68 minutes, “Crumbs” features a lot to admire, and plenty to ponder, perhaps pointlessly. Yet I cannot recommend it because I cannot discern for whom this film is intended, or to whom it might appeal. Disbelieving in movies preconceived in one’s head, Miguel Llanso has created a nontraditional, unconventional film unlike anything seen before. But to achieve what end, I’m not sure even he can say.
Review Score: 50