"Marooned in Iraq" Review

By Dave Kehr The New York Times

No matter how much cable news coverage of the war in Iraq you might absorb, television is still no substitute for the movies when it comes to placing you in a particular place at a particular time as lived by particular people. The generalizations and speculations of the television anchors and commentators fade away in the face of a film like Bahman Ghobadi's "Marooned in Iraq," a Kurdish-language feature that opens today in Manhattan.

Mr. Ghobadi, a Kurdish resident of Iran and the director of the impressive "Time for Drunken Horses" (2000), has set "Marooned in Iraq" in the period immediately after the Persian Gulf war, when Saddam Hussein was trying to soothe the sting of defeat by bombing and gassing his country's Kurdish population.

The stark horror of these attacks is portrayed with devastating force in Mr. Ghobadi's film, not by dramatizing the attacks themselves but by filming their aftermath: entire villages abandoned, thousands of refugees crowded into camps, snow-covered fields that contain mass graves. Though these images date from a time 10 years in the past (and were filmed two years ago, well before the current conflict), their relevance could not be greater. Here, in the mourning crowds and lonely survivors, are the human faces that trump any statistic about the human cost of war.

Yet for all of the film's anguish, Mr. Ghobadi provides an affirmative counterpoint. The film is structured as a journey, from Iranian Kurdistan to Iraqi Kurdistan, undertaken by a locally famous singer, Mirza (Shahab Ebrahimi), and his two adult sons, Barat (Faegh Mohammadi) and Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtian), in search of Mirza's ex-wife, Hanareh (Iran Ghobadi), a singer who left for Iraq after the Iranian revolution prohibited her from performing in public.

Like most road movies, "Marooned in Iraq" consists of vignettes of varying tone as the three men make their way across the mountainous landscape that spans the Iraq-Iran border. Some of the episodes are tragic and some quite funny, even as we hear the sounds of Hussein's jets flying overhead and bombs impacting in the distance.

If Mr. Ghobadi's dominant theme is the devastation of the Kurds, his subdominant tone is one of strength, resistance and fertility. Communities are destroyed, but families are created as all three men forge new emotional alliances, either by falling in love or adopting children. The Kurdish nation, Mr. Ghobadi suggests, is really the Kurdish family, extending in all directions through a region in which everyone seems to know, or at least to have heard of, everyone else.

Originally Published April 25, 2003

Copyright © 2006-2010 Firouzan Films. All rights reserved.