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Where EAST meets the Northwest

ROAD TRIP. Half Moon, a drama about a Kurdish musician who leads dozens of his musician sons from Iran to Iraq for a concert to celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein, opens at Portlandís Hollywood Theatre on Friday, February 15. (Photo/Bahman Ghobadi)

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #7 (February 12, 2008), page 15.

Dream-like Kurdish road film evokes laughter, sympathy, and wonder

Half Moon (Niwemang)

Directed and produced by

Bahman Ghobadi

Distributed by Strand Releasing

By Toni Tabora-Roberts

The opening scene in Kurdish writer/director Bahman Ghobadiís Half Moon is hectic and vibrant, drawing you in immediately. A cockfight begins in a dark room filled with dozens of shouting men while two young boys play lively music alongside. Suddenly, all the action stops as Kako (Allah Morad Rashtiani), the cockfight ringleader, fields an important cell phone call.

On the other end of the phone call is Mamo (Ismail Ghaffari). We come to find out Mamo is a revered Kurdish musician nearing the end of his days. The phone call sets into motion a bizarre, comical, tragic, and stunning journey.

This is not your formulaic, feel-good Hollywood road trip movie. It is an enigmatic, compelling journey through the harsh landscapes (both literal and metaphorical) of Kurdistan.

The story starts in Iranian Kurdistan, where Kako has finagled a bus to help Mamo on his epic and dangerous journey to Iraqi Kurdistan. In light of the fall of Saddam Hussein, Mamo has received authorization to go to Iraq to perform a celebratory concert.

Because of regional anti-Kurdish policies, Kurdish music in the region had either been banned or severely restricted over the years. During Husseinís reign in Iraq, Kurdish music was highly censored for anything remotely political. In Iran, women were banned from singing in public. Mamoís concert is highly anticipated by the Iraqi Kurds, and Mamo has become a legend and symbol of hope in the community.

With that as the backdrop, Mamo recruits the bumbling Kako, his greatest fan (and the filmís comic relief), to serve as driver. They first travel throughout Iranian Kurdistan to pick up a motley assortment of Mamoís 13 sons. His sons, who are also his accompanying musicians, are reluctant passengers, frightened of the difficulties of travelling in the region. One of Mamoís sons even relays a dreadful message from one of the community elders that this trip does not bode well for Mamo.

To add to the stress of the already perilous journey, Mamo insists on bringing along Heshow, a female singer who lives in exile, along with more than 1,000 other female singers. The hesitant Heshow brings heightened danger to the mission, as women are not allowed to cross checkpoints. One of the much-lauded, gorgeous scenes in the film comes when Mamo escorts Heshow out of the womenís refugee camp. The women send Mamo and Heshow off in a colorful, rhythmic sea of women drumming from the side of the hilltop encampment.

Along the way, the band of family musicians encounters an expected number of obstacles, some comical, others frightening. Surly police threaten them at checkpoint areas. One by one the sons are left behind or run away. They even happen upon a funeral.

As the trip evolves, Mamo travels through his own passage in dreamlike sequences confronting his eventual mortality and questioning his resolve in completing the expedition heís started. Ghobadi successfully blurs the lines of the actually journey with the dream journey. I found it refreshing to not have a neatly packaged sense of reality vs. fantasy.

Another fascinating aspect of the film is the juxtaposition of contemporary elements on a seemingly traditional culture. Cell phones and wireless internet (including Yahoo e-mail) pop in and out.

This film is less about the characters ó though the characters of Mamo and Kako were played with endearing, cantankerous charm ó and more about a journey, a people, and a place. Half Moon provides a much-needed and compelling glimpse of a story from this regionís complex history and culture.

Ghobadi, the acclaimed Kurdish director of A Time for Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly, was commissioned by the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna to make a film in honor of Mozartís 250th birthday. Inspired by Mozartís Requiem, Ghobadi made Half Moon, beautifully evoking themes of music, life, death and salvation. The film was an official selection of the Toronto Film Festival and has screened worldwide.

Half Moon opens at Portlandís Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., on Friday, February 15. For more information, including show times, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org>. To learn more, visit <www.mijfilm.com>.