A delightful tragicomic tale from Central Asia, “Moon Father” ventures into the realm of magic realism to recount a plucky girl’s search for the man who impregnated her, a man she has never seen. Western-financed production values well serve this modern folk tale, told with humorous verve and some anger by young Tadjikistan helmer Bakhtiar Khudojnazarov (“Braten,” “Kosh Ba Kosh.”) Venice fest slotted it into Dreams and Visions, the category hosting popular entertainment, but this exotic, offbeat product will require good reviews and word of mouth before auds catch on to its crossover potential.
The story is intermittently narrated by unborn baby Khabibulla from the vantage point of his mother’s belly. Teenage Mamlakat, played by spirited Tatar actress Chulpan Khamatova, lives in an ancient city by the sea with her fiery, wild-eyed father (Ato Mukhamedshanov) and brother Nasreddin (Moritz Bleibtreu, of “Run Lola Run”). Losing a piece of his skull in the war (probably Chechen or Afghanistan, but pic avoids a specific time frame) has turned the boy mad, but Mamlakat does her best to protect him from the villagers’ mockery.
She dreams of becoming an actress, but when a touring theater company comes to town, she misses their performance. That night, instead, she finds herself lyrically falling down a sloping hillside in the arms of one of the actors. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, she’s thrust into a whole new world when, with the troupe long gone, she discovers she’s pregnant. This, pic makes clear, is absolutely unacceptable to the otherwise lawless townsfolk, who throw stones at the pariah to encourage her to find a husband fast.
She ties her explosive father to a chair before telling him. Then the family sets off in their truck like a trio of Asian hillbillies, trying to identify the culprit and save their honor. This leads to a long series of sketches set in the far west of bandit-ridden Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Kirgizstan. Mamlakat’s meeting with a handsome con artist (Merab Ninidze) posing as a doctor in a fake bloodmobile finally seems destined to bring her the happiness she deserves, but the film springs several more surprises before its fantasy conclusion.
One of the most surreal ideas that Khudojnazarov and co-scripter Irakli Kwirikadze had was to mix traditional culture, fabled cities and folk costumes with the violent postmodern world. Armed soldiers in tanks holding up farm trucks in the desert are put on the same level of reality as cows falling out of the sky.
As brother Nasreddin, Bleibtreu communicates the troubling dignity of war veterans who have seen more than they can ever recount. Khamatova embodies the impossible contradictions of love for life and acceptance of its tragic side. Her sparkling, on-key perf is one of pic’s major pluses.
Lensing is credited to four cinematographers, but pic sports a fairly unified look nonetheless. A local score from Tadjik musician Daler Nasarov has a folk-rock feel.