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'Marooned' celebrates the will to survive

May 23, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Bahman Ghobadi's "Marooned in Iraq," a lusty affirmation of life in the face of catastrophe, opens in the wake of the Gulf War with Saddam Hussein turning his wrath on the Kurds. For centuries this large ethnic group has lived in a mountainous region of Southwest Asia known as Kurdistan but which falls into Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The Kurds have endured endless hardship, oppression and, at the hands of Saddam, genocide. "Marooned" is set along the border between Iran and Iraq, as was Ghobadi's previous feature, "A Time for Drunken Horses." It is also rich in images of natural beauty and the warmth and passion of traditional Kurdish music and musicians.

On the Iranian side of the border with Iraq, the elderly Mirza (Shahab Ebrahimi), a celebrated singer among his people, has received word that his fourth, much younger ex-wife, Hanareh, once a singer with Mirza's band, has been entertaining in refugee camps along the border and is in need of his help.

Knowing that his musician sons, Barat (Faegh Mohammadi) and Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtian), would not accompany him otherwise, he tells them that he and Hanareh were never actually divorced but that she simply ran off with Seyed, Mirza's friend and a member of Mirza's family band. Mirza is therefore able to argue that it is a point of honor that they try to locate her.

Considering its time and place, "Marooned in Iraq" has a surprising degree of earthy humor until its climactic sequences. Ghobadi shows his people as having endured so much for so long that they have developed a hearty survivor's sense of humor in regard to the absurd extremes of human suffering and injustice. At every turn, Mirza and his hefty middle-aged sons are vulnerable to thieves and border police as they make their way from one community to another in a mountainous, snowy region.

All three have explosive tempers, which means their rants and ravings over the workings of outrageous fortune can make them seem comical figures. At the same time, they're always open to the good that comes their way by chance. Barat, who has never married, may have found a wife at last in an attractive young woman with a beautiful singing voice. Audeh, who has had seven wives who have presented him 11 daughters, insists he will keep on marrying until he has a wife who can produce a son.

As they make their way from one encampment to another, the film takes on an increasingly dark tone as Mirza and his sons cross over the border into Iraq, where it seems as if the country's entire Kurdish population has joined in a long trek, trying to escape from the constant strafing of Saddam's planes and his horrendous chemical warfare. Even though the film's tone grows ever more elegiac, it stubbornly remains a celebration of the Kurdish capacity to endure.


'Marooned in Iraq'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult themes

Shahab Ebrahimi...Mirza

Faegh Mohammadi...Barat

Allah-Morad Rashtian...Audeh

The Teacher...Saeed Mohammadi

A Wellsping release. Writer, director, art director and producer Bahman Ghobadi. Co-writer Fariborz Kamkari. Cinematographers Saed Nikzat, Shahriar Asadi. Editor Hayedeh Safi-Yari. Music Arsalan Komkar. In Kurdish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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