WHEN THE MOON WAS FULL – When terrorism hits Iran

Jihadism close to Al Qaeda, one that prioritizes fighting Shiites before any other ‘infidel’, lives in Pakistan and Iran along the porous borders of the regions of Sistan and Balouchistan. It has committed hundreds of attacks against civilians and Iranian military personnel in these regions. This is the backdrop for the story of the terrorist group known as Jundallah, active between 2003 and 2012 in this predominantly Sunni area, which inspired the movie WHEN THE MOON WAS FULL of the Iranian film director Narges Abyar. The picture received numerous recognitions and prizes at the Fajr Film Festival last February. It was screened again, out of competition, at the recent edition of the international Festival. The movie highlights how ideology and religion, when they degenerate into radicalism, annihilate love and our sense of humanity.

It is the film director herself who offers this insight. She has also authored shorts, documentaries and other movies, often inspired by the tragic and drawn-out war between Iran and Iraq in the ‘80s- a heavy burden in the collective memory of Iranians, with its human cost of hundreds of thousands of victims on both fronts, but mostly on the Iranian one.

 

Her feature film is based to a great extent on a real life story, the story of the leader of Jundallah, Abdolmalek Rigi – captured and executed in Iran in 2010- and of his family. The entire family was dragged into the same horrific destiny; some of the members because they had followed in his footsteps, while others for powerlessly living out its consequences. It is Abdolmalek’s brothers who make him the leader, accomplices in a criminal past made up of drugs, arms trafficking and smuggling. In fact the real protagonist is Abdolhamid (Houtan Shakiba) together with the pretty Faezah (Elnaz Shakerdoost), a girl from Teheran who falls in love with him and marries him. However, the young man’s will to keep far away from the path chosen by his brothers (who had abandoned the more moderate beliefs of their own Rigi tribe) is gradually eroded by the radical ideology of his brother Abdolmalek (Amin Ramihian), leading him to a full-blown transformation of his personality becoming the impersonification of evil.

The three female characters are the main victims of this choice: the young Faezah (whose gradual discovery of reality becomes the equivalent of landing in hell), Faezah’s mother who had stayed in Teheran and, lastly, the young criminals and terrorists (Fereshteh Sadr-Orafai) who are powerless before the tragic demise of their own family. These women, regarded by jihadists as worth less than the earth they walk over, at the same time represent for the jihadists the only way to hold on to a sense of maternal love as the last remnant of humanity.

Women can play a key role in reducing violence in areas ridden with radicalism. As explained by the movie director in an interview with GeoMovies, the government is trying to promote this role by placing women as mayors and governors in these border regions. Official public records show that this area has in fact the highest numbers of public offices held by women in Iran. Yet – as noted by Narges Abayar – in these same regions patriarchy is very strong, families are often against allowing girls from attending school. The fact that it is the central government promoting these institutional posts for women is a way for them to increase awareness of their rights and to fight for their implementation.

The picture, recently released in Iranian movie theatres, which aims to compete in international festivals, has a rapid pace, even in how it traces Abdelhamid’s transformation from a man in love to ruthless terrorist, as well as in how it shows the combat scenes. Compared to most Iranian movies there are a few specific references even in the love scenes. Close attention was paid to correctly depicting historic aspects: the picture was filmed in the same geographic areas where the story took place, between Iranian Balouchistan and Pakistan (however the number of people working on the set was reduced to a minimum for safety concerns) and in Bangladesh for some scenes. The movie, produced with private funding, highlights how poverty and the lack of opportunity for young generations are among the causes at the root of the problem in the regions of Sistan and Balouchistan. These issues, combined with radical religious beliefs and autonomous tendencies, even after the demise of the Jundullah group, have continued to render this area between Iran and Pakistan, ripe with terrorist attacks.

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