Clueless soldiers engage in conflict and culture shock in “Time of the Comet,” a costumer by Albanian helmer Fatmir Koci (“Tirana Year Zero”), that marries the absurdity of war to the utter absurdity that was once Albania. Set shortly before WWI, the pic recounts the picaresque adventures of a comely young hero who convinces five villagers to follow him into battle. En route, they encounter a gay bandit leader, a polite Prussian king, a crucified nun and a self-immolating Muslim, as the fate of the nation hangs by a foreskin. Romantic, tragic and profoundly hilarious, “Comet” could brighten arthouse venues.
Upon learning that Albania is no longer under Ottoman rule, Shestan (Blerim Destani), armed with an outdated map (national boundaries change weekly), ventures forth with his men to seek out and defend the newly named German king of Albania. The ragtag band crosses countless internal divisions, each claimed as a protectorate of some foreign power. In one of the pic’s best sight gags, the group comes across a crowded signpost bearing arrows pointing to half the nations of Europe.
The makeshift troop finally reaches King Weid (Thomas Heinze), who has ethnic problems of his own. Faced with a choice between his throne and his foreskin (Albania’s considerable Muslim population demands he be circumcised), Weid abdicates.
Meanwhile, Shestan himself has attracted attention — some of it welcome, some not. In the course of his travels, he keeps encountering Agnes (Masiela Lusha), a lovely young woman forced by her father into a nunnery to avoid ravaging soldiers. Ravishment also preoccupies the fearsome, sultan-backing warlord Kus Babaj (Cun Lajci), who, instead of attacking Shestan, pursues him, mad with lust for our handsome hero.
The Albania traversed by Shestan displays a tolerant multiculturalism that finds its own crackpot alternatives to war. Shestan’s run-in with a bunch of Macedonians results in a musical showdown in which the folk melodies native to both sides shoot back and forth with different arrangements and instrumentations.
In contrast to Godard’s brutish “Les Carabiniers,” Koci’s protagonists manage both heroism and cluelessness, their saga both romantic and absurd. Koci’s gorgeous widescreen tapestry — complete with men in swashbuckling folk regalia or brass-buttoned European uniforms, set against majestic mountainside backdrops — grants full historical sweep to the idiotic events. After all, World War I is just around the corner.