Grotesque melodrama set in the imaginary town Far-Khor at the seaside of the imaginary Tadzhik sea. A young girl obsessed with theater becomes pregnant from a touring actor. Her father and brother travel to different theaters around the country in a search of the father for the future child.
Moon Papa, a film by Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov, is a big co-production of the seven countries of Germany, Russia, France, Tadzhikistan, Austria, Switzerland, and Japan. The producers of this multicultural motion picture are Karl Baumgartner, a prominent European producer, who is also known from producing Emir Kusturica’s films, and Igor Tolstunov, a Russian producer. The film has a large international cast: Mamlakat, the Tadzhik girl -- Chulpan Khamatova, a Russian actress; Nasreddin, the brother – Moritz Blaibtroy, a German actor; the father – Ato Mukhamedzhanov, a popular Tadzhik actor; Alik, the groom-to-be of Mamlakat – Merab Ninidze, a Georgian actor; Moon Papa, the biological father of the future baby – Nikolai Fomenko, a Russian entertainer. However, the looks less multicultural in comparison with the geopolitics covered in the content of the movie.
The motion picture represents a true tower of Babel – people, nations, languages and images. Everything is mixed in here – countries, eras and heroes. The eclectic image of an Eastern town somewhere in the-post Soviet space is the only element that ties everything together. In one word, it is the modern Central Asia. A war goes on and people drive military Hummers instead of regular cars (today’s Tadzhikistan); somebody sells cheap Chinese merchandise just delivered on motorboats (Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan); the some of the citizens of the town still rehearse in the local dance group called "The Harvest" (Uzbekistan). The features of post-Soviet and Soviet lives are mixed together: ancient rituals and ceremonies exist next to modern life and even futuristic elements.
At the same time, it is absolutely obvious that the film is not Soviet, and first of all in its visual style. Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov constructs an entirely new artistic style for the picture. For example, there is not the typical Soviet-style airy and spacious perspective of exterior. The exterior looks almost flat. The space is communicated by the simple line of the horizon and often by changes in the colors of the vertical and horizontal planes. Also, using large areas of complex colors is another characteristic of this cinema - painting. These areas can represent the colors of the iridescent Central Asian sunset, or the mother-of-pearl color of the waters of muddy Amur-Daria in early morning, or maybe the hot colors of the shadows in the noon heat…
I can just suppose that Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov was inspired by the paintings of Russian and then Soviet artists, who were never acknowledged by the official powers and continued their work in Central Asia – Goncharova, Drevin, Udaltzova, Volkov, Kalmikov, the early Tansikbayev, etc.
The special color and space decisions of their avant-garde and post- avant-garde paintings interested filmmakers for a long time. For many artists, Soviet Central Asia became "the second Tahiti". These artists believed that this land, its people and their ancient culture might change stereotypes of the Soviet arts and, following in the spirit Paul Gaugin in his magical Tahiti, they can discover a new paradise on earth.
Moon Papa is a very significant film representing that a new esthetic was born in Central Asia during the last decade. This esthetic reflects all the metaphorical and global changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is important to note that there is another influence on Moon Papa – the esthetics of Emir Kusturica’s films. The film’s emphasized resemblances to Underground and Black Female Cat, White Male Cat, films by Kusturica, allow me to believe that Khudoinazarov considers Central Asia a united region as well as Kusturica perceives the Balkans.
The main idea of Underground is the director’s mourning for the perished Yugoslavia. At the finale of the film, there is a scene strongly resembling the scene of Gradisk’s wedding in Amarcord by Federico Fellini. The same way as in Fellini’s film, all the characters – alive and dead – of Underground gather around a festive table and keep repeating: "What a country we used to have…" The epic cinema-language of Emir Kusturica enables him to draw global and serious conclusions. Using this kind of cinema-language, Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov can not only declare that an entire country disappeared from the map but also state that "once upon a time a new country was born – the country of the Post-Soviet Central Asia."
Let us take a look at the people who live in this country. They are very symbolic. The main character of the film is a girl named Mamlakat ("Motherland" in Tadzhik) and she represents the image of today’s Tadzhikistan. Her brother Nasreddin had a concussion and attempts to fight the world’s evil. He runs on the streets with bottles of sand and makes believe that he is an airplane with bombs – a strong resemblance to neighboring Afghanistan. A doctor-gynecologist is a Kazakh man, who gets randomly shot. Potential husbands for Mamlakat are actors from various theaters – Tadzhiks and Uzbeks. The nervous father and deceased mother are the Soviet past. Alik is a con artist and card fraud but also gold-hearted "one-of-the-guys" type, who agreed to marry Mamlakat and announce the baby as his. However, the possible happy ending is canceled with grotesque deaths: a loosely-tied cow falls down from a biplane and crushes Alik and the father of Mamlakat to death. It seems that Mamlakat is never going to be happy! Moreover, they find out who is the real father of the baby – the pilot of the biplane. The pilot is a geopolitical symbol as well. He symbolizes Russia, who made Mamlakat pregnant and remained unknown for a long time. The name of the film, Moon Papa, is the name of the search for the father, whose face was covered in the darkness of night – the symbol of war. What awaits Mamlakat in her future? Should she run away, fly away, escape this place so her future baby – the future of the nation – will be born and will survive?
The question remains without an answer. Isn’t it a very sad ending for a grotesque melodrama?
Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Tadzhikistan, Japan, 1999
107 minutes, color
Director – Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov
Script by – Irakli Kvirkadze
Cinematographers – Martin Shlakt, Dushan Eskimovich, Rostislav Perumov and Rali Ralshev
Music by – Daler Nazarov
Cast: Chulpan Khamatova, Moritz Bleibtroy, Nikolai Fomenko and others
Producers: Karl Baumgartner and Igor Tolstunov
Awards and Participations in Film Festivals:
Grand Prize at the Three Continent Film Festival in Nantes, France, 1999
Screening at the Rotterdam Film Festival, 2000
Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003
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