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CAPSULE MOVIE REVIEWS

'Absurdistan,' 'Chocolate'

February 06, 2009|Kevin Thomas; Mark Olsen

Veit Helmer's "Absurdistan" is a droll and lusty comedy set in a remote ancient village once under Soviet control, now forgotten in an arid no-man's land. That the women in the community's 14 families do virtually all the work while the men relax doesn't seem to be an issue. The couples enjoy a robust sex life -- but then there's not much else to do.

The story centers on teens Aya (Kristyna Malerova) and Temelko (Maximilian Mauff), who are overcome by mutual attraction but agree to remain pure until they reach 18, when Temelko will return from four years of education in the city. When he comes back, however, he discovers that the village's piped-in water supply has been reduced to a trickle.

The men have been too lazy to even attempt to solve the problem, driving the women, including Aya, to declare: "No water, no sex!"

Which means Temelko, if he is to win Aya, has to figure out a way to get the water flowing once more.

"Absurdistan," shot in Russian in Azerbaijan with an international cast, has a folkloric charm buoyed by consistent comic inventiveness and a lovely score by Shigeru Umebayashi.

Helmer's abiding affection for human foibles comes through here just as strongly as it did in the German filmmaker's "Tuvalu" (1999), set in a Bulgarian bathhouse.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Absurdistan." MPAA rating: Unrated. In Russian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.

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The plot is just a reason to fight

As "Chocolate" opens, a group of Thai gangsters seems to be breaking up and heading in different directions. One will remain in the game, another will be exiled to his native Japan and a third will live in semi-retirement as mother to her autistic daughter. That daughter will stare out her window at the kick-boxing academy next door and pick up the techniques of a master fighter.

Eventually, revenge is sought and scores are settled. It boils down to this: Thai girl fighting. Is that enough of a movie for you?

"Chocolate" is directed by Prachya Pinkaew, who reached an international audience with "Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior," a film that prided itself on real people executing real action. This time Pinkaew has discovered and trained young "Jija" Yanin Vismistananda.

The plot line is a mere setup to a series of action set-pieces, and the film essentially lives and dies on whether the stunt coordinators can come up with something interesting from each location. An icehouse fight seems kind of uninspired, a battle in a charnel-house butcher-shop is gleefully bloody and the finale -- across the side of a multi-storied building -- is where the movie finally hits its stride.

The autism angle is an excuse to transform a cute little girl into an unlikely fighting machine, and her obsession with chocolates (hence the film's title) is a mere add-on.

But who among those likely going to "Chocolate" are looking for narrative cohesion? The final credits include behind-the-scene footage of bloody foreheads and slow-motion replays proving the gritty bona-fides on this placeholder for hard-core action junkies.

-- Mark Olsen

"Chocolate." MPAA rating: R for violence throughout, and brief sexuality/nudity. In Thai and Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood (323) 848-3500.

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