HALF MOON (Bahman Ghobadi, 2006)

Combining whimsy and pathos, fantasy and fatality, Iranian Kurd Bahman Ghobadi’s fourth feature, Niwemang, is the sort of thing to divide audiences. To some, Old Mamo’s premonitions of his own death are liable to seem farfetched and contrived; I kept thinking of John Farrow’s dark, silly Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), from Cornell Woolrich, where Edward G. Robinson’s stage psychic draws a blank wall in his mind that we, his surviving audience, later discover always indicated his death. But Mamo isn’t a mentalist. He is a musician who has gathered up his ten sons and is transporting them in a borrowed school bus so they can all perform together one last time in Iraqi Kurdistan.
     Here, then, is a road picture (as was Ghobadi’s 2002 Marooned in Iraq), in this case from Iran, France, Austria and Iraq: yet another opportunity for Ghobadi to create several magnificent long-shots. (In one of these, the bus winds its way along a mountain path when a cut finds it, the camera much closer in, pulling into a stop. However, surely the film’s most dazzling and mysterious shots are subjective. A swarm of people outdoors suddenly appear upside down when the next shot, of a man hanging by his legs from a tree as punishment, explain the point of view. A strange, angelic figure helps lead Mamo to his coffin in the middle of nowhere en route to the concert stage; an objective shot of Mamo lying in the coffin gives way to point-of-view shots of the coffin lid going on and, later, coming off. But in this last case the “point of view” must be ours, for Mamo has already passed on.
     A bit much for me: point-of-view shots of Mamo spattering the snow with his coughed-up blood.

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