Luna Papa (With English subtitles)

2001-02-16 07:13

It was the Italian writer Gramsci who was supposed to have spoken about an interregnum; a period in which the old order has died but the new is not yet born.

Interestingly, Tadjik director Bakhtiyar Khudojnazarov starts his film set in the former Soviet Union republic, Tadjikistan, with a voice over from an unborn child and ends it with the words "happy birthday" when the infant is born - symbolic of the collapse of an old order and the new order still on its way.

The baby, Khabibulla, belongs to the seventeen-year-old Mamlakat (Chulpan Khamatova) who lives in a village near Samarkand, and has small town aspirations of being a famous actress. One night she is seduced by a mysterious stranger who claims to be a friend of Tom Cruise.

He's the "luna papa" of the title, although all the characters seem to have been touched by the moon.

She is not too bothered by the pregnancy, but her father Safar (Ato Mukhamedzhanov) and her somewhat retarded brother Nasreddin (Moritz Bleibtreu), feel it is a matter of family honour. They set out to set matters right - and the result is chaos, both visually and plotwise.

The only way to describe the movie is "Kusturican": it's similar to the Bosnian born director, Emir Kusturica's films, particularly Black Cat, White Cat. There is the same frenetic pacing, the same juxtaposition of the absurd within the ordinary, the same plot devices that sometimes turn the surreal real for a moment before everyone continues with their lives, and the same feel for broad, riotous comedy. We seldom pause for breath.

Near the beginning of Luna Papa, Nesreddin looks at a fish frozen in a bock of ice, but the film is anything but frozen. Khudojnazarov makes sure there is constant movement all the time. When we see Mamlakat's village, people are milling around, an aeroplane flies across the background and it is noisy.

When Mamlakat is seduced, the scene isn't static, she seems to glide on air through a moonlit forest with the mysterious stranger.

Kusturica has created a piquant psychological and visual form for the interregnum. Khudojnazarov has said that in Tadjikistan there is a clash between the traditional and the post-modern, and that his film deals with this.

Change is a period of uncertainty, of fear, but in Luna Papa the waiting for birth/rebirth is one of comedy, the kind of drollery that gets its force from chaos.

The humour is life-affirming - so is change, the interregnum. The ever-moving visual style catalogues and absorbs: we see a harvest festival, rugs against a wall, strange villages from a fairytale, all forming a unique portrayal of Mamlakat's life and the society she lives in.

And the film revels in the movement, enjoys it. The break-up can be fun. If ever there were a comedy of optimism, one capable of getting off on a material and emotional over-abundance, then this is it.

Interestingly, Khudojnazarov uses less music than Kusturica who tends to overdo the soundtrack and even has musicians wandering through the films. In Luna Papa, sound - and make no mistake, it is a noisy movie - comes from the life we see.

The movie has been criticised as being a failed attempt at magic realism, and praised as well for succeeding in that genre. You decide. Magic realism is an overused word: it implies an exotic Latin American tropicalness, an hallucinatory quality. Luna Papa's background is arid, mountainous, barren, harsh conditions that emphasise the movie's teeming life and the charactersÆ tough, picaresque journey through it.

But I don't think one should categorise the movie, just go with the flow. It's a funny, rewarding film, a joyous, buoyant use of the "Kusturican" style. I enjoyed it immensely.