Monday, July 11, 2011

Half Moon

Bahman Ghobadi

I watched a beautiful, tragic movie yesterday called "Half Moon," directed by the Persian director Bahman Ghobadi (who has also done the wonderful "No One Knows about Persian Cats.")  Half Moon is a story that morphs subtly into an allegory about the tragedy of the kurdish people, divided perhaps forever by three different national borders, all of which house non-kurdish majorities who find these people difficult and generally a problem--so much so that now and again one country or another (Iran, Iraq, Turkey) decides to wipe a few thousand of them from the face of the planet.  It's the story of cultural minorities everywhere of course.  If you are different, some people find that annoying, or incomprehensible, or frightening.  And of course politicians have always found scapegoats handy levers to power.  The list of examples is endless.

In Half Moon the "plot" involves a venerated Kurdish composer, Mano, who gathers many of his sons together along with one wonderful woman singer to perform a concert in newly freed Iraqi Kurdistan.  They travel by bus through this remarkable, ancient, rocky mountain wilderness, reaching at one point a mountain top with a sign pointing to all three national states--an area otherwise totally barren and without any mark of civilization.  On their trip they come upon many remarkable sights--one of the most remarkable being a city of stone houses where thousands of women singers have been exiled.  Mano has to bribe a guard to even enter the place--but there he finds his singer and takes her on the trip to the concert.  All this, too, is a metaphor for the tragedy of women in this area of the world.  Mano tells us that 1334 women have been exiled in this place, and all sing with one voice.

So the trip progresses.  It does not end with a wonderful concert, but in a nightmare vision of failed efforts to reach Iraq.  Indeed, this part of the movie is such a nightmare that I had nightmares of a similar sort, concerning such activities as appearing on stage in concert only to discover that I had no memory of the words to a song I was about to start singing.  We all understand this kind of anxiety dream of course.  It's the "Oh fuck, I don't have any pants on" dream.  But I think we all should try to see these films from places in the world (such as Iran) where at the moment we have only the anxieties conferred on us by our political leaders, and the implications we draw, right or wrong, from events like the 9/11 attack.

An American director would not make a film like this, I don't think.  Not, at least, about Americans as a people.   This is a film about a beautiful dream which is in the end thwarted by larger forces, and in the face of many indications that the dream will be fulfilled.  Mano's "muse," a beautiful young woman named "Half Moon" who was born in the border region, does not manage to get him to the concert, though the film ends in some ambiguity, which amounts to hope.  There are strains of "I have seen the promised land--I may not be there with you."  The kurds are a people for whom hope is mostly a necessary delusion.  While certainly Americans have experienced this existential reality in specific circumstances, it is only American minorities who have known the bite of this qua their identities. ( Oh, and of course American women know it, and are seeing once again their dreams of equal status being dashed by political and religious forces that for various reasons object to the idea that a woman has the fundamental right to own her own body.  But that's something of another story.)

Half Moon is a beautiful movie about the Kurdish dream, filmed in the kurdish landscape.  It should give any viewer much insight into another part of the planet--a place different from here, but not ultimately foreign.  It's the politicians who trade in the "foreign," and who see places like this as primarily about the mineral content of the terrain, the people inhabiting it being distractions or impediments to be brushed aside.   This journey starts with the elimination of Saddam.  During the trip, Americans shoot at the travellers.  So it goes.

Keep an eye out for the next Ghobadi film.  He's simply wonderful.

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