Tuesday, December 28, 2010

REVIEW: Luna Papa

Luna Papa
Director: Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov
Year 1999

Luna Papa is a marvelous modern day fable set against the backdrop of the beautiful expansive landscapes of Tadshikistan. Directed by Tadshikistan native Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov and written by both Irakli Kvirikadze and the aforementioned director, Luna Papa tells the story of a young innocent girl named Mamlakat, played to perfection by the beautiful and extremely talented Chulpan Khamatova, as she struggles with family problems and the fact that she has recently become pregnant by an unknown stranger.

What makes this film so unique, is the fact that it is all being told from the perspective of the unborn child. With this creative method, the film is able to really stretch within a child like frame of mind, allowing for a more fantastical representation of the world that we've come to know. Along with the fairy tale element of viewing the world from a child's eye view, the film also follows similar cues found within shakespearean tales, providing a comedy that's filled with tragedy, unique characters, and plenty of poetically charged visuals.

 My god, I'm talking to a pile of rocks!

What really makes Luna Papa such a glorious success is the flawless performance by young Chulpan Khamatova. I had only recently become aware of her screen presence earlier this year when I stumbled across a Russian super hero film called The Sword Bearer that I reviewed in April.  Watching her subtle performance in that film had me hooked and I had to hunt down the rest of her more universally acclaimed roles. After seeing her portray the troubled Mamlakat in Luna Papa, I've made it my film loving duty to obtain the rest of her films. I've recently viewed Goodbye Lenin where she doesn't exactly have that much screen time, but in the scenes that she does appear she steals the show. She's an expert actress and the performance that she gives in Luna Papa is beyond words and simply original in every and all aspects.

 I pledge allegiance to the flag....

The rest of the cast does an equally superb job with bringing their vibrant characters to life. Moritz Bleibtreu of such stellar films as Run Lola Run, Das Experiment, Munich, and The Baader Meinhof Complex, gives an interesting and sympathetic turn as Mamlakat's estranged and confused brother Nasreddin. Suffering from shell shock and constantly getting into trouble, Moritz conveys Nasreddin as a gentle yet highly troubled young man who, in previous events not seen in the film, is dealing with a lot of demons from warring as a soldier. His antics of racing around the town knocking things over, mimicking an endless battle with evil, gives his character a frayed yet harmless quality that allows us to sympathize with his plight and all that's going on within the film's story. It was actually surprising for me to see him in a role like this, because I'm used to always seeing him representing a more controlled character. With Nasreddin, Moritz is able to step outside of the norm and play a more obscure role, one that definitely progresses the story-line but through none traditional ways.

 And the winner is Pops in his red speedster!

The directional efforts of Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov is just astounding and it really breaths life into the world of Luna Papa. The camera swoops along with the action and gracefully soars from one scene to the next. I'm often caught off guard on how amazing the entire film flows and how set we are as the audience in this world. It almost feels like were part of the adventure, getting to know the subtle nature of these characters and sharing in on the madness of it all. Nothing is taken at face value and grounded in the world of the ordinary.

Everything is epically overblown and dramatic in flare. There's many outstanding uses of a propeller airplane that, as the story progress, we come to find means a great deal to the overall story arch. There's just some very masterful shots in this film that will have you really appreciating the great efforts that the director and crew must have gone through to get the timing of some of these said scenes that perfect, yet make it look so effortless in the process.

 So what, I like standing on cars. No big whoop.

To watch this film, is two experience the lives of this tight knit family that we follow throughout its length. There are some scenes in the movie that really show a great deal of heart and soul. Little moments that if placed in other filmmaker's hands would have been normal and uneventful, but within the world of Luna Papa, these moments come off as a stupendous endeavor that has a life of its own.  Much like how a musical relates the feelings of the actors through expressive songs, giving a great deal more weight and impactful nature to their sung words, the director uses this same technique but with sweaping camera movements while acquiring a delicate focus on the wimsical nature of his characters and fantasy infused world that they inhabit. The recipe results in something entirely watchable and extremely enjoyable to experience.

 Mamlakat is pissed that she missed Top Cruise, and who wouldn't be.

The world of Luna Papa is an eyepopping one, with never a dull moment or frame to be seen. The colors pop across the desert landscapes and the nighttime locations are infused with such a fragile and beautifully placed lighting scheme, that it does wonders to bring us into each new beautiful location. The visuals that Tadshikistan provides are ones that really can't be placed anywhere else in the world. It really is a wonderful location filled with such diverse landscape and colorful places, that I can't imagine this spectacular story being told anywhere else. Tadshikistan is Luna Papa and both film and place blend admirably together.

 Prepare for takeoff.

The comedy within this film is picture perfect for the characters and world that they've set up. Nothing ever feels out of place or simply put in to get a cheap laugh. Most of the humorous scenes that really work have to do with how the character is dealing with a given situation. One of the most memorable moments that had me cracking up, was when Mamlakat sneaks out to visit a doctor to get an abortion, which in the end never comes to fruition because of extenuating circumstances. After telling the doctor her sob story, he finally conceeds to the operation and tells her to lie on the table. Mamlakat, seeing the leg sturrups and never being in this situation before, mistakes them for arm sturrups and lays flat on her belly with arms straight out, looking like she's about to take off like some kind of airplane.

Now you'd think that the situation of getting an abortion wouldn't be a funny one in the least, but through the niavity of Mamlakat and the expert timing of actress Chulpan Khamatova, combined with the horrible situation that she is in, the director is able to slip in a comedic moment that doesn't feel thrown out of left field. It's natural in its execution and normal for a woman as young and inexperienced as she is in this story to be confused yet to go about it in the most oblivious way. It's also interesting that the shape of an airplane and also stylistic cues come up again and again throughout the film, but that's another one of those everlasting charms that the film throws out to you after repeat viewings.

 Why the hell can't I grow tomatoes for shit?

Not only is there some great comedic moments in this film, but there's also some heart felt drama that tends to creep up from time to time. Sometimes these dramatic moments are intersected with comedic touches that have you feeling multiple emotions at once. One of the best examples of this is when Mamlakat's father, played by Ato Mukhamedzhanov, is pleading at his wife's grave asking when it is his time to join her. He's fed up with all that life has thrown at him after her passing and he wants nothing more then to be with her again. He frustratingly begins clawing at the ground digging a small hole just big enough to place his head in and then proceeds to bury his head under the sand.

The scene starts out heartbreaking and then suddenly dips into comedic flavor as he basically gives up on any kind of dignity and kneels there with his head buried firmly in the ground. The scene is also a great play of how fathers deal with finding that their daughter has become pregnant while still in their care. They figuratively bury their head in the sand and pretend that it's not true. The visual metaphor is brilliant and you'll find constant instances like this throughout the film.

 What a beautiful time for a ferry ride.

Luna Papa is just plain fun. It's an adventure movie with a comic twist, created from the mind of an innocent unborn child who views the world from a sort of fairy-tale storybook perspective. The adventures that Mamlakat and her family get into as they search far and wide for the father of her baby, is so sprawling and unpredictable that you can't help but be swept up by the unbridled ambitiousness of the story. The characters that they meet along the way are equally matched by the boldness of the narrative. You will literally not know what is going to happen next. The film has such a random nature to it, but at the heart of it, it has so much stability and coherency that you won't consciously notice the mad cap nature of it all. You just fall in line with the characters and go along for the ride. In my opinion that's the epitome of masterful story telling. If you can lose the audience into the world that you've created then you've done your job to the fullest.

 The whole worlds come undone, Mamlakat's got a gun!

Now this wouldn't be a very thorough review if I didn't mention the glorious music that accompanies this impressive film. Daler Nazarov provides some jovial and uplifting themes along with a slew of haunting and melodramatic melodies that add another layer of mastery to the overall movie. One of my favorite pieces entitled Loneliness, crops up from time to time and when it does it perfectly captures the feeling of desperation and seclusion that Mamlakat is going through trying to deal with living in a society that frowns upon unmarried pregnant women and dealing with the fact that any happiness that she finds seems to die a quick and painful death. The score for this film by Nazarov is one that provides the perfect visual sound needed to catapult this story into legendary and story book status. The mythical allegory that the film lays out for its audience is perfectly represented with the melding of characters, locations, visuals, and music.

Probably the coolest and strangest birthday card to give someone.

Luna Papa is a type of film that you will likely never again see in your lifetime. It's originality will be hard pressed to match and the execution of the film is something that seems to be only possible in that moment of time when it was filmed. To be truthful, this is not a film that is visually seen, but emotionally experienced. It's a ride through someone else's life, yet through the eyes of a child. Such a confusing conundrum seems destined only to end in a muddy mess of incoherent patch-worked scenes, but from this madness emerges a film that truly reveals itself to be something of a lost gem.

The lively story, combined with the wonder of each characters impact on the overall narrative, gives birth to a film like no other. One with heart, soul, and a compelling nature that never seems to dim as the story expands into the absurd. Luna Papa is a film that you must see for yourself to gauge its worth. Some might get lost in the frantic nature of the story, but if you're willing to cling on and open your mind to a film that breaks the mold of storytelling, you might be pleasantly surprised that you come out the other end of this surreal bombshell with a film that you've absolutely fell in love with. I can't recommend this movie enough to any and all cinema lovers.

5 out of 5 stars      A Fantastic Experience Like No Other!


  1. Your review is so full of emotion and passion! It's a great tribute to a great movie.


  2. Thanks Carlos! Yeah, I guess my love for this movie shows. It has to be one of my favorites. There's just an unexplainable magic to it that just captures me every time I watch it. Thanks for checking out the review!

  3. I just watched this film for the first time for a similar reason as you stated... I have recently made it my mission to see all of Bleibtreu's films, having recently discovered his work while trying to learn German. After seeing this film yesterday, I was stunned. It's not like anything I've ever seen before. I loved every minute of it! I'm considering showing it to my mother and sister, but because their tates are more mainstream, I'm not sure if they will appreciate this film or not... still, in my opinion this was a breathtaking film the likes of which I have never before seen, and I am glad that I watched it. Thanks for posting such a thorough and heartfelt review.

  4. I'm so glad you stumbled onto this film and even more thrilled that you loved it so much. It really is something special and it's damn near impossible to put down in words how powerful of a movie it is. Again, glad you were captured by it and thanks for the kind words on the review and for taking the time to check it out.