Films that are all whimsical and full of colors usually refrain from being more than anything that is not whimsical and full of colors. The characters are pretty, problems are dreamy, and antagonists are cartoonishly evil. But sometimes, a film will put down its legs from the clouds into the firm ground of reality — and somehow also managed to keep its head in between the rainbows. Luna Papa is one of these rarities.
Many might be familiar with the atmosphere in Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov’s Luna Papa (1999), which finds itself in the midst of the Post-Soviet Central Asia that is not unlike the Eastern Europe, a land full of rocky terrains but always never devoid of colors. Embodying the visual spirit of Paradjanov but without delving into the world of vague, the film puts clear definition in its characters: Mamlakat is a quirky girl with big desire to get into acting, but she is stuck in her nowhereville with her brother Nasreddin who is off his mind (seemingly due to post-war trauma), and his eccentric father who breeds rabbit for their living. Nonetheless, Mamlakat is always happy — or at least goes through her days with an adorable level of airheadedness, an important character trait that drives much of the plot. When a theater company passes by her village, she tries to catch up to them without much luck, only to find herself knocked up months later with a mysterious man’s baby from the theater company that has gone elsewhere. Thus, the journey of the lovable family to find her child’s father begins in the land where onerous landscape meets armed legions.
Did I say armed legions? Yes, you might never encounter soldiers wielding assault rifles in a Parajanov movie, but this is Central Asia slash Middle East where people are rough and war is rampant. A glimpse of soldiers is shown here and there, and villagers don’t hesitate to show their rough edges to each other (maybe it’s just how things are in the Central Asia). Yet, what is more prominent is that Khudojnazarov didn’t choose to explore too deep into the grim reality, and instead put Mamlakat and her family in a lightheaded mess of a place that often swerve into comedy. Luna Papa never exactly puts a pin in the map for Mamlakat’s house, but the influence in the setting range from the war in Tajikistan to people delivering goods from a boat as in Kazakhstan. As the story goes, the family jumps into more and more surreal incidents like hotel residents being kidnapped, actors angered into throwing metal shield to the audience, and even animal falling from the sky. None of this are more magical than the fact that these accidents aren’t magical at all — everything is just a reaction of an action. Almost everything, at least. Best advice is to sit back and enjoy things as they happen.
Among the most enjoyable parts of the film is the stellar Chulpan Khamatova as the protagonist Mamlakat, a girl with the air of typical French movie characters who always follow their instinct without the least care in the world. The only difference is that Mamlakat isn’t living in a first world country where going places is easy and there are actually pavements for pedestrians. Mamlakat’s dream of being an actress is a glimmer of hope for a better living, but it doesn’t mean she dwell in misery in her current condition. Though at times she appeared naive, but it’s actually her optimism that is an exact opposite embodiment of naivety: she knows full well of the consequences of her actions, and she goes through great lengths to make the best out of it. Along with her brother Nasreddin and her loving father, the story of a family finding the mystical “Moon Father” is a gem of a film that wears its heart on the sleeve and isn’t afraid to rip it apart, because sometimes absurdity is simply a part of the daily life.