"Half Moon": In Praise of Music By Mehdi Abdollahzadeh

in 54th San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Mehdi Abdollahzadeh

Kurdistan and Kurdish people are still Bahman Ghobadi’s most important concern. Half Moon (Niwemang), his fourth film, is again about Kurdish tributes pains and difficulties, restrictions they have and the injustices they have suffered from all over history. But what has happened to Ghobadi after finishing this film is a sort of experience and intensity of his perspective which, compared to his last films, lead to a more moderate and self-possessed intonation. If in A Time for Drunken Horses, more than anything, he was looking for a sentimental impression and instantly exciting human’s feelings, or in The Songs of My Mother Land, he intended to express sad realities through satire with an exaggeration, or his sad viewpoint in Turtles Can Fly which pale the shallow satire of the film, now in Half Moon he can achieve a moderate, logical, deep and unforgettable statement. The scenario also compares to precedent scenarios, has more wealth and music and is less related to Kurdish geographical and historical statute. Beyond his precedent films, free from all remarkable artistic qualities, the director’s attempt and motivation for insisting on the sad realities of Kurdish peoples’ life was clearly noticeable. But in Half Moon, instead of talking about the tiring process of smuggling goods with horses, lack of medicines, lands full of mines or children who were war victims, it tells the story of love, a story which can take place free of time and place; a story in praise of music, in praise of love.

Ghobadi, who has written all of his films’ scenarios, gradually is reaching a kind of richness through literature. Through a poetic manner he could establish a multilateral relation between elements such as music, woman/angel, heaven and death which gives a spiritual aspect to the film. Mamo’s and his youngest son’s strange glances to the heaven, particularly in the cemetery scene when they hear Niwemang singing, the strange and unexpected descent of Niwemang on the roof of the minibus, her ascertained presence among Mamo and sons’ disjoint group for accomplishing his mission (helping Mamo to achieve his fait) and the most important, the scene in which the cadaver trembles following Niwemang’s song, are signs that confirm Ghobadi’s tendency to spiritual aspects which were not in his precedent works. The scene in which Mamo tries to justify his disagreement of joining her sick daughter to the group so he count the members and avoiding from 14’s inauspiciousness, omits his daughter from the group a shallow satire is in playing with number 14 that at the end of film when the angel/woman’s attendance turns to a horrible reality: The angel/woman who is called Niwemang (half moon), comes to Mamo exactly on 14th of the month and Mamo’s death occurs on the same day. (According to lunar calendar, in the 14th day of month, the moon could be seen fully. In the eastern semiotics of culture, the full face of moon is a metaphor for beauty. Meanwhile, the 14th day, is the middle of the month (half moon).

The Kurd separatism tendency is considered as one of the reasons for banning the film. (And such a coincidence that the film wins the prize in a festival located in the Basque separatist territory!). I also believe that such a tendency really lies beneath the hidden layers of the film. Apart from them, there are still two obvious signs; one of them is the map of Great Kurdistan used by the group to find the way. But the other one could be distinguished with more attention: after praying next to a holy tree, Mamo ties several white and green wide ribbons to a stick, each green after a white and vice versa. Then he installs it in front of the minibus, like a flag. My knowledge of the semiotics of colour in Kurdish culture is zero, but it is clear to me that only one close-up shot from this combination of stick and cloth swinging emphasises on the status of being a flag and its importance as a sign.

Although Half Moon, like A Time for Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly, doesn’t leave a high sentimental impression, instead, it enters into the depths of the characters’ spirit; it could succeed in some moments to make his thoughtful addresser’s eyes wet; far from superficial and instant impressions. It was really unbelievable for me to find out that Jim Jarmusch was crying in two scenes of the film; once, when the cadaver shakes with (as a result of?) Niwemang’s pleasant song and Mamo disappointedly asks the doctor to try again and wishing that hearing the song will make his friend alive. The other time, where the soldiers break the musicians’ instruments.

Half Moon was produced as a custom-built upon an Austrian cultural centre’s request under the pretext of Mozart’s 250 year anniversary. I think that if Mozart really loved music then there’s no doubt that he would have admired the film, for he has found high respect and adoration towards music in the film, and even he may have cried for a few moments!