Saving the best for last at the Film Festival Rotterdam, with Bahman Ghobadi's new film 'Half Moon' ('Niwemang'). Two years after his heart-wrenching 'Turtles Can Fly' won the audience award (and countless others as well), 'Half Moon' may be his most profound film yet.
Accompanied by his sons, the legendary, long-silent Kurdish musician Mamo sets out on a journey to give one last concert in the free Iraq. Travelling on an old bus through the barren mountains on the borders of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, Mamo's journey is haunted from the start by omens and visions of death. The number 14 in particular recurs as an unlucky symbol (in the lunar calendar, the 14th day is full moon).
Adding to their perils is the fact that Mamo insists upon taking along a female singer, who they will effectively have to smuggle into Iraq. In an unforgettable scene, they travel to a remote village where 1334 female singers are exiled (touching upon the fact that women are no longer allowed to sing in public in Iran). As Mamo enters the village, the women all welcome him with song.
Though the first half of the film is lighthearted, with many funny scenes (the bus driver especially serving as comic relief), tragedy slowly takes over. Interestingly, 'Half Moon' was commissioned by New Crowned Hope, the Vienna festival commemorating Mozart's 250th birthday, and the film was based on Mozart's 'Requiem'.
Even after their instruments have been destroyed by a border patrol, their singer has disappeared (captured?) and part of their group forced to turn back, Mamo will not give up his dream. Finally, when a mysterious girl named Niwemang ('Half Moon') appears, saying she will replace their singer, Mamo's visions become reality. The moon is full, and he entrusts himself to this angel of death to help him cross the border.
In Ghobadi's unique blend of comedy and tragedy, 'Half Moon' reflects the dire situation of artists in a region torn by fanaticism and war, but it also tells a mythical story about the magic of music and the journey to death.