Born In Absurdistan

Irony both subtle and obvious abounds in "Born in Absurdistan," a dramatic-satiric attempt to turn the tables on Austrian racism. Helmed and co-written by Iranian-born, Vienna-based vet filmmaker Houchang Allahyari, this is an ambitious but overwrought morality tale hinging on the apparent switching of babies in a hospital.

With:
Stefan - Karl Markovics Marion - Julia Stemberger Emre - Ahmet Ugurlu Emine - Meltem Cumbul

Irony both subtle and obvious abounds in “Born in Absurdistan,” a dramatic-satiric attempt to turn the tables on Austrian racism. Helmed and co-written by Iranian-born, Vienna-based vet filmmaker Houchang Allahyari, this is an ambitious but overwrought morality tale hinging on the apparent switching of babies in a hospital. Though pic benefits from an inherently powerful situation and narrative stretches of true tension, the final effect is too uneven for more than middling B.O. and fest interest, with the greatest passions surely generated on the home front.

Rather than pit whites vs. Persian emigres, Allahyari — one of a handful of Iranian expatriate filmmakers working in Europe since the Islamic revolution — conceives a story (with co-writers Tom-Dariusch Allahyari and Agnes Pluch) involving a Turkish family whose baby boy is born in the same ward as a boy sired by Marion (Julia Stemberger) and her husband, Stefan (Karl Markovics), a major official with the Austrian interior ministry in charge of immigration.

When Emre (Ahmet Ugurlu) and wife Emine (Meltem Cumbul) are prodded by the nurses into Marion’s room after the births, chaos ensues, Emre and Stefan nearly come to blows and the babies are switched.

Emre and Emine, who have lived and worked in Vienna for a decade, soon step into bureaucratic quicksand (including, in the plot’s most extreme coincidence, a fateful error made by Stefan while he is supposed to be counseling them) which leads to their deportation back to Turkey.

Learning of the baby switch from one of the guilt-ridden nurses, Stefan and Marion frantically pursue Emre, Emine and baby all the way to their small Turkish town.

Interlude in Turkey, which finds the couples eventually bonding and plotting to illegally return to Austria, injects some unexpected whimsy and social comedy into a fable designed to primarily open Stefan’s eyes to the realities of a non-Euro culture.

Even with the title’s suggestion of the absurd, the conclusion is the plotting equivalent of a Rube Goldberg contraption designed to get the two families to a happy end. Allahyari’s best success is managing his quartet of leads toward, but not over the edge of, frantic comedy. Tech work is fair.

Born In Absurdistan

Austria

Production: An EPO-Film production. Produced by Dieter Pochlatko. Directed by Houchang Allahyari. Screenplay, Allahyari, Tom-Dariusch Allahyari, Agnes Pluch.

Crew: Camera (Listo-Film color), Helmut Pirnat; editor, Charlotte Mullner; music, Herbert Tucmandl, Tarkan; art director, Rudolf Czettel; costume designer, Margret Stobl; sound (Dolby Digital), Mohsan Nasiri. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 12, 2001. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: Stefan - Karl Markovics Marion - Julia Stemberger Emre - Ahmet Ugurlu Emine - Meltem Cumbul

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