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MOVIE REVIEW

Hope and pride face long odds

In 'Half Moon,' an elderly composer is determined to celebrate Saddam Hussein's fall.

December 28, 2007|Sheri Linden | Special to The Times

In less than a decade the Iranian Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi has become one of cinema's most potent lyric poets. From an amalgam of broad comedy, gentle absurdity and the harrowing consequences of war, he sparks a deeply humanist alchemy in unsentimental tales peopled by nonprofessional actors. "Half Moon," Ghobadi's fourth feature since his 2000 debut, "A Time for Drunken Horses," strikes a more forthrightly elegiac tone than any of his preceding work. At the center of the story is a revered elderly composer who's determined to travel from Iranian to Iraqi Kurdistan to celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein with a performance of long-banned Kurdish music.

It's a journey driven by hope and pride and shadowed by a sense of impossibility -- and mortality. Mamo (Ismail Ghaffari) has planned the trip for seven months, securing the necessary permits for himself and his dozen adult sons, a ragtag collection of musicians. With Kako (Allah Morad Rashtiani), a Kierkegaard-quoting entrepreneur and cockfight organizer, at the wheel of an old bus, the group makes its way along winding mountain roads and, with increasing difficulty, through police checkpoints.

Apparently all of Kurdistan and the international media await Mamo's arrival in Iraq, but on the basis of a wise man's omen, one of his sons urges him to cancel the trip. Mamo won't be stopped, however, in his mission to stage a joyous rebuke to decades of oppression. In the film's boldest symbolism, the 1,334 residents of a cloistered village -- female singers all, and forbidden to perform publicly in Iran -- trill from perches atop the roofs.

Ghobadi's films inhabit a territory of borders: Kurdistan overlays the perimeters separating Iran, Iraq and Turkey (whose bombs now plague the region). But the intimations of death in "Half Moon" concern an individual's fate, not regional politics. At a feast, Ghobadi focuses on the roll of the backgammon dice, and a look of recognition passes between Mamo and one of his sons like a prophecy.

One of seven projects commissioned for the New Crowned Hope film series commemorating Mozart's 250th birthday, "Half Moon" -- whose title refers to a late-arriving character, as fiercely practical as she is angelic -- is an eloquent and audacious lament.

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"Half Moon." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. In Kurdish and Persian with English subtitles. Exclusively at the ImaginAsian Center, 251 S. Main St., downtown L.A. (between 2nd and 3rd streets). (213) 617-1033.

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