LUNA PAPA (Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov, 1999)

It is hard to say who is the protagonist of Tajik filmmaker Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov’s Luna Papa: 17-year-old Mamlakat, whom we certainly see the most, or her unborn fetus, whose narration we sometimes hear—for me, an irritating device, especially given the fact that this articulate baby-voice ought to have been silenced, and would have been, had the doctor who was just about to perform the abortion not stepped outside for a raspberry soda at a convenience stand and got shot to death in crossfire unrelated to him. Mamlakat is, alas, unwed, and her father and older brother are having no luck at tracking down from a list of actors the one who pulled her down seemingly endless brush one night and invisibly delivered more than the line that he once met Tom Cruise. The rapist—for that is what he is, and therefore why Mamlakat’s father should want his cherished daughter to marry him is beyond me—“appears,” like the fetus, as a voice and nothing more. Rape is a dreamy experience in this film.
      Something else that happens also bothered me. We seem to be poised for a happy ending, at Mamlakat’s wedding party on a raft at sea, when a bull falls from the sky—honest!—and kills the young man who genuinely loves her and whom she genuinely loves, and who was more than happy to claim the soon-to-be-born-baby as his own. Actually, the bull, which was pushed from a plane out of the frame, creating a brusque bit of visual magic, also kills Mamlakat’s father. The film proceeds, draggingly and symbolically, to a far less satisfying ending sounding a feminist note of solitary independence.
      That said, this is mostly a wonderful, zany, spirited, sometimes hilarious comedy full of gorgeous magical imagery. It comes from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Japan, Germany, France, Russia, Austria and Switzerland, and it won a host of prizes for young Khudojnazarov, whose international critics’ award at Brussels reads as follows: “For elevating post-Soviet reality to a world of fantasy and fun combining realistic acting with unpredictable surprises.”

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