A carefree young Iranian bride discovers too late that her husband’s family are Al-Qaeda commandos in Narges Abyar’s dramatic retelling of a true story.

Cross-pollinating political drama, historical events, a love story and a horror movie into one edge-of-seat narrative, Narges Abyar confirms herself as one of Iran’s most exciting new directing talents in When the Moon Was Full. After two films dealing with the human price of the Iran-Iraq war (Track 143 and Breath), she tackles Al-Qaeda head-on in an operatic over-the-topper that, terrifyingly enough, is based on a true story. In a rosy, romantic dream gone wrong, very wrong, the last half-hour is sheer horror. The film swept up best film, best director and three acting awards at Iran’s national film festival in February and will probably win more prizes wherever it plays.

It’s not a perfect film – characters’ viewpoints shift like the sands, undercutting the build-up of suspense, and even the two-hour-plus running time is too short to do justice to the Al-Qaeda scenes. But what is lacking in depth is made up for in the passionate directness of the filmmaking. Another attraction are the charming lead actors, particularly Elnaz Shakerdoost in the role of the laughing young wife who doesn’t wake up to where her new husband is leading her until she is in the middle of a nightmare.

The opening scenes fly by lightly. One day in front of his shop in the market, tousle-headed Abdol-Hamid (Hootan Shakiba) sees a man pestering a pretty girl and throws a punch at him. Soon he’s proposing to the girl himself. Young Faezeh (Shakerdoost) has led a sheltered life with her protective mother and brother, and it takes some maneuvering to get the young couple married, but eventually the whole family is assembled in the backyard for the wedding. Only an uninvited guest causes a ripple of uneasiness amid the food, jokes and laughter. The teasing tone of the first half of the film, with a tip of the hat to Hamid Najafirad’s bold editing, is modern and deceptive, lulling the viewer into thinking the story will continue in this ironic voice.

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