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When the Moon was Full

Iranian woman marries charming stranger only to find out he's a religious fundamentalist, and that her entire family could be in danger - live from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


B/ased on the true story of the brother and sister-in-law of Malek Rigi, the former leader of the Jundallah terrorist organisation of Southeastern Iran, When the Moon was Full starts out as a psychological drama about female oppression gradually morphs into action thriller, with gun fights, car car chases and plenty of brutal murders. An unbelievable yet true story. A typical case of reality surpassing fiction.

The young and gorgeous Faezeh (Elnaz Shakerdoost) meets the kind and vaguely timid Hamid (Hootan Shakiba) in a local bazaar. They fall in love and get married. However, not all is rosy. Chauvinism prevails in this profoundly conservative society. The availability of the female is negotiated by the family, and she’s often reduced to her physical attributes, such as her eyes and feet. A woman who wears make-up and doesn’t cover her hair properly is regarded as a “slut”.

Faezeh and Hamid go on honeymoon near the Pakistani border, where she meets her in-laws for the first time. One day, the police arrive with one of Hamid’s brothers in handcuffs and uncover a pile of weapons and money. Faezeh begins to sense that there’s something wrong. Perhaps Hamid isn’t so pure and loving after all. She challenges him, but he refuses to shed light on his family’s shady activities. Hamid’s harsh an unpleasant mother is entirely complacent. She advises Faezeh: “women’s words are worthless, either wife’s or mother’s”.

The couple eventually move to Quetta in Pakistan. The city is profoundly impoverished and chaotic, in contrast to the far more civilised neighbouring Iran. The previously clean-shaven Hamid grows a beard. Hamid and and Faezeh dwell in a house the size of a palace. “It looks like a stadium”, she says of her room. The extravagant and luxurious lifestyle overwhelm Faezeh, eclipsing her concerns about his family’s trade and his strange facial hair. She has a son and is now pregnant with twins

Gradually, Hamid’s mask slips. He and his brother Malek are in reality fanatical Jihadis from the Jundallah organisation, who routinely cooperate with Al-Qaeda. Quetta is very near the Afghanistan border, and some of the film’s most electrifying scenes take place in a nearby Al-Qaeda camp. Their mission is to recruit more fighters and to eliminate infidels. They are blindly devoted to the very male concept of martyrdom. One day Faezeh wakes up alone locked up in her palace. Her son is nowhere to be seen. The lover of her dreams has morphed into a menacing oppressor. She’s trapped in a nightmare.

In the movie’s most disturbing event, Faezeh’s brother comes to her rescue, but he’s captured by the Jundallah terrorists. He’s beheaded live on Arab television, and his executioners phone his mother in order to ensure that she watches the unspeakable act. This may sound like fiction gone far, but in reality this is exactly what happened. Faezeh’s life too is in danger. Hamid’s associates demand that he kills his wife immediately after she gives birth to the twins. The babies should be spared, presumably to be trained as Jihadis. Hamid’s allegiances are divided. Does he have a scintilla of humanity inside him or is he entirely consumed by religious fanaticism? Will he spare the life of the mother of his children or will he abide by the rules of his fundamentalist associates?

At 137 minutes, When the Moon was Full makes for sobering yet very uncomfortable viewing. It’s also a little tiresome. The successive narrative developments aren’t easy to follow unless you have a reasonable understanding of Iranian/Pakistani geography and politics. And the multiple points-of-view make the story unintelligible at times. Just because reality is difficult to comprehend, it doesn’t mean so should the movie.

When the Moon was Full is showing in Competition at the 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Three years ago the director Narges Abyar won the Best Director prize at the event for his previous feature Breath.

By Victor Fraga - 26-11-2019

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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