Filmed two years ago and set during the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Marooned In Iraq is a Kurdish-language road movie, an odd combination of absurdist humor and stark tragedy that evokes Samuel Beckett as much as it does the neorealist sensibility of its Iranian writer/director Bahman Ghobadi (A Time For Drunken Horses).
Its journey begins in Iranian Kurdistan where a famous old musician named Mirza lives with his two grown sons, Barat and Auden, also musicians (the film was originally called The Songs of My Motherland but its current title more aptly captures its occasionally comic tone). Mirza learns that his wife Hanareh is in some kind of trouble at a Kurdish refugee camp on the Iran/Iraqi border. Hanareh, a singer, left Iran 23 years previous when the fundamentalist revolutionaries banned women from singing. That the nature of her trouble is never quite clear, either to the viewer or to Mirza, makes his sojourn seem all the more quixotic.
The movie takes place during dangerous times — Saddam Hussein, having suffered an ignoble defeat in Kuwait, has now turned his attention toward gassing and bombing the Kurds. As Mirza and his two reluctant sons make their trek through the chaotic, war-torn and bandit-ridden landscape their various encounters become a testament to life’s persistence in intolerable situations. Unfortunately this persistence can take the form of a Darwinian struggle where no one is ever quite safe. Because of his fame, Mirza and his sons are treated with respect almost everywhere they go, but it doesn’t prevent the trio from being forced to perform at a wedding by a gun-toting lunatic or robbed of their instruments and their precious motorbike.
Mirza’s tribulations seem comic because he and his sons are a bit larger than life and able to absorb whatever befalls them. But the film becomes grimmer once the travelers arrive at the Iraqi refugee camp, with its gassing victims and its endless news of endless deaths. It’s an unflinching look at one of Saddam’s more heinous legacies, and the film never settles for simple pathos. Ghobadi’s gift is his ability to depict the victims of a tragic situation as people who suffer in their individual ways, quietly or indignantly, or even sometimes with a glimmer of hope.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday, Nov. 10. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].