Dir/scr: Bahman Ghobadi. Ir-Aust-Fr.2006. 107mins.
Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon, one of seven features producedas part of the Mozart's Visionary Cinema: New Crowned Hope season, is moreambitious but not as tightly knit as some of the Iranian film-maker's bestwork. A road movie, whose real theme is the unifying spirit of the defiant Kurdishnation, it follows Mamo (Ghaffari),a grand old Kurdish musician, who will move heaven and earth to travel fromIran to Iraq to perform in front of half-a-million people.
But the plot, which is spun out to 107 minutes, loses breathespecially in the first half, with not enough compensation from the spectacularmountain scenery nor the folksy characters who accompany the ageing star on hisimpossible journey.
Faithful followers ofIranian - or to be more accurate Kurdish - cinema will certainly find much toplease their palate, but Half Moonwill not draw as many accolades as Ghobadi's earlierwork like Turtles Can Fly and A Time For DrunkenHorses. Few festivals will turn it down, given Ghobadi'sstature, but this is one really for the faithful.
The picture's most colourfulcharacter is not Mamo himself but Kako(Rashtiani), who is tasked with taking him over theborder. A fast-talking maverick con man, he is first introduced while running acockfight, during which he imparts to his large, enthusiastic audience some wisdomabout not fearing death ('For when I am here, death is not, when death ishere, I am not'.)
As the two roosters are about to battle, Kako's youngson waves a mobile phone in the air and tells dad that Mamoneeds him. Kako instantly quietens down the inflamedcrowd of gamblers and tells them that one of the greatest Kurdish folk singersof his time is going back on stage. In one of the picture's weirdest moments,the two cockerels peck wildly at each other in complete silence, with none ofthe onlookers whispering a word.
Leaving everything else,including his suspicious wife, Kako talks anunwilling acquaintance into lending him his bus and picks up Mamo, then sets out on a long journey to collects thestar's sons from their respective villages.
There is also Hesho (Tehrani), Mamo's female singer and muse, without whose contribution Mamo will not even consider performing on stage. The onlyproblem: while Mamo has a permit to leave the countryshe cannot, forbidden as she is by Iranian Islamic law to sing or perform inpublic.
At the border suspiciouspolicemen search the bus to look for any female singers Mamomay be smuggling. Eventually Hesho is found and takenaway, only to be brought back by a friendly Kurdish policeman before shedisappears again. She is not the only one: on every step of the long, torturoustrip someone else leaves the story.
Realising he has not muchtime left in this world, and fearful of never making it to the concert whichwill be the crowning achievement of his life, Mamofights against people, the elements, Fate, everything, with the stubborninsistence of an artist who will not settle for anything less than his originalvision.
Far more demanding thananything Ghobadi has tried before, Half Moon is shot on widescreen 35mm anddoes justice to the breathtaking locations it moves through.
The hesitant narrative isnot necessarily a problem in this type of feature, which really relies on astream of incidents and characters who are more relevant than the plot itself.
The use laptops and mobilephones in such a remote and windswept environment offerssome delightfully incongruous moments. But the real magic comes when Mamo first confronts Hesho andhis initial expectations that she will accompany him are rebuffed by her quiet,fearfully vulnerable hesitancy. More of this kind of material would have helpedthe film.
Ismail Ghaffari, as Mamo, stands out as a great, tragic figure, particularly inthe last reel which takes place on a snow-covered mountain pass. Almost everyone of Kako's energetic interventions, supported by Rashtiani's shameless displays of emotion, suggestssomething of the resourceful heroes whose exploits are part of the folklore ofthe region.
New Crowned Home
The Match Factory
Allah Morad Rashtiani