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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: The Last Moon

Film Review: The Last Moon (La Ultima Luna)


By Sonia Nettnin At The Chicago Palestine Film Festival


Aline, a 1914 Jewish immigrant to Palestine has been shot by Turkish soldiers. When there is occupation there is violence, pain, suffering, and death. Why did she come and can she trust anyone? Which betrayal hurts more: a woman's deceit or a brother's deceit? Who will save face and who will survive? (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

"The Last Moon" tells the story of two Palestinian families. While one family stayed in Palestine the other family immigrated to Chile.

Amid the family's letter correspondence and a future marriage, Soliman Al-Yatim, a Palestinian-Christian landowner in Beit Sahour, a village east of Bethlehem, Palestine; and Jacob, an Argentinian Jew and recent immigrant become friends. Set in 1914 just before the fall of the Ottoman Empire in Palestine, Soliman sells Jacob land, saves his life from Turkish soldiers and helps Jacob build a house. However military, political and ethnic forces tear the men apart, along with potential indications of deceit and feelings of betrayal.

Director Miguel Littin, a world-renowned Chilean director of Palestinian descent created "La Ultima Luna," a cinematic masterpiece.

Soliman (whose name means "peaceful") has a wife, family and ancestral land. Jacob (whose name means "supplanter") wants to buy some of Soliman's land, but Cousin Gorbacha wants to keep the land within the Palestinian family. Jacob's presence makes Gorbacha uncomfortable. The people live under Turkish occupation, so Gorbacha is busy working as a liasion with the Turks to keep peace within the village. Turkish soldiers terrorize the people. Palestinian peasants, who cultivate the land for the Palestinian landowners, and Palestinian families in neighboring Beit Jala dislike Gorbacha's relations with the occupying Turks. Soliman's relationship with Jacob intensifies the tension. Since Palestinians see the influx of Jewish people immigrating into Palestine they see an increasing number of kibbutz settlements, including Huam Village nearby.

After Soliman sells Jacob some land to pay off a village fine to the Turkish ruler Aga, Jacob shares that he wants a two-story house for himself. At first, Soliman refuses to help Jacob, but Soliman changes his mind when his wife points out the children cannot wait to eat until harvest. In the meantime, Gorbacha arranges the marriage between Soliman's oldest son, Mihail and Gorbacha's daughter, Zihar. Soon after their marriage they will travel to Chile, grow up into adults together and start a family.

In the midst of contentious events, Turkish soldiers shoot a Jewish immigrant, Aline (whose name means "light"). Aline has blondish hair and blue eyes. The sheepherder, Ahmed, finds her near dead and he thinks she is a bloody angel who crashed into the mountain. Soliman's wife, Matty removes the bullets from Aline's body and Soliman nurses Aline back to life. Originally from Europe, Aline travelled to Chile and then to Palestine. She confesses: "Since I came to this land nothing has turned out as I expected." Aline is a single woman who does not know who she is and she does not feel she belongs anywhere, yet "...something that belongs to me is here," she adds.

An elderly Palestinian woman, Afiffe, travels to the desert so she can be free from the violence. She foresees what is to come of the Palestinians. Soliman does not want to join Lawrence of Arabia and the Allied Powers to fight against the Central Powers (Ottoman Empire). Yet, the people want freedom from Ottoman rule.

The people sing a song to the moon: "It will be our last moon if we don't expel the beast it will be our last moon if we don't expel the beast."

The "beast" is the occupation and continued violence, with larger plans afoot and multiple, political forces fueling tension in the region. Turks want to maintain their power, Palestinian landowners do not want to share agricultural wealth with the workers, the Arabs see the Jews as a threat, and some of the Jews have a serious agenda to take the land by force. In response to a Bedouin attack on a kibbutz and the death of a four-year-old girl, Alina and her new kibbutz friends have other plans for Beit Sahour.

After Jacob visits a kibbutz, he tells Soliman that the settlers have a tractor - modern farming technology that can do the work of 50 men. The settlers work hard and they possess modern irrigation methods that make the land fertile. What Jacob does not share is that the people are dressed in blue uniforms and they perform rigorous exercises with guns. It is unclear whether he knew about their extensive weaponry and strategy, but Alina tells Soliman that Jacob did not know. Since Alina uses sex to lure Jacob away from his home the night before a land theft operation, the stereotype of Western women as immoral, manipulative and untrustworthy finds a home in this film.

The sting of hurt comes to the surface in this work of art, especially in the final scene. The plot and unfolding of events brings an emotional understanding of why Palestinians feel betrayed. The Biblical allusions to Soloman and Jacob and the historical events taking place throughout WWI give the film texture and content for discussion. Also, the inner workings of "saving face" in public and how people apply it to maintain social order and command respect was interesting. However, I would never want to be in the middle of a "saving face" situation because it can be dangerous, especially when tempers are on fire. Consequences can be permanent. Emotions and the human relationships they create speak volumes in this gorgeous film, which unfolds like a symphony.

After Littin finished filming in this area of the West Bank, Israel began construction of the wall a few days later. "The Last Moon," has a home in the present-day.

*************

-U.S. journalist and film critic Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.


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