For many years this 1986 Russian minimalist sci-fi sort of comedy was extremely popular in Russia and China but all but unknown outside of those two countries due to a lack of an official release. But its reputation grew slowly over time and it was released on dvd with English subtitles, and now thanks to Russian studio MosFilm you can legally watch it in full on youtube.
A film where the pace is all over the place, very early on our two male leads Uncle Vova (Stanislav Lyubshin) and Gedevan Alexandrovitch Alexidze (Levan Gabriadze) both happen upon what looks to be a homeless man but who turns out to be an alien with a transportation device, and within the first few minutes they both meet him and are transported to the planet Pluke, a miserable desert planet with seemingly very few inhabitants.
Vova and Alexidze discover that matches (or the sulphur on them) are worth an enormous amount and haggle with two untrustworthy aliens for a ride in their spaceship and the hope that they might eventually be returned to Earth, but the majority of this very long middle section is their learning the unusual customs and rules of this very different society. A large element of this is how they’re tricked and conned and treated poorly, but eventually begin to learn how to deal with the inhabitants, and even grow fond of some of them.
The final half hour suddenly lurches all over the place as we leave Pluke and visit a couple of other planets, and in some ways I wish the film has concentrated more on this aspect. Not that their antics on Pluke aren’t funny, but it’s a very dry comedy about the nature of the rules we impose upon ourselves, with a dash of absolute absurdity for no real reason that they presumably found it funny at the time, this reportedly being a film where over half the script was ad-libbed..
It’s one of those films that appears to be a situation where one person might passionately love it, one might be mildly amused and bemused, and another might hate it enormously, and I found myself in the middle category. Its relentless weirdness can be a bit exhausting on occasion, but the majority of the time I was entertained even though I wished it was funnier and faster paced. But even despite these issues there’s certainly a fair amount to admire, with a lot of strange but funny ideas being played around with, the performances are strong from a very committed cast, and visually it’s a film with some images that will stay with you for a long time to come.