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With: Shahab Ebrahimi, Faegh Mohammadi, Allah-Morad Rashtian
Written by: Bahman Ghobadi
Directed by: Bahman Ghobadi
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Kurdish with English subtitles
Running Time: 97
Date: 05/22/2002

Marooned in Iraq (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Iraq' Against the Wall

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bahman Ghobadi's first appearance to U.S. viewers came as the man in thehole in Abbas Kiarostami's masterpiece The Wind Will Carry Us. Thehero yells a few questions down to him, and Ghobadi's voice floats backup, but we never see his face.

With such a strange debut, Ghobadi may be destined for great things. His feature directorial debut, A Time for Drunken Horses, was a respectable box office hit and was one of the first films in Kurdish. Shot in a simple, realistic style, it told the powerful story of a family of children who worked as smugglers in the snowy, rocky Iranian countryside.

Now, with his second feature, Marooned in Iraq, Ghobadi has already grown by leaps and bounds. He has learned to mix it up a bit, adding comedy to his bleakly dramatic situations and changing the landscape and weather to help layer in the emotions.

The story has a former popular singer Mirza (Shahab Ebrahimi) and his two grown sons Barat (Faegh Mohammadi) and Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtian) -- also musicians -- hitting the road to try and find his ex-wife.

Ghobadi portrays the three men as a kind of Kurdish Three Stooges. Aged Mirza is the sanest of the three, while Barat rides a motorcycle and constantly wears sunglasses in a kind of pop star pose. Audeh constantly grumbles about his seven wives and twelve daughters, all caught in the name of trying to sire a son. Audeh sports a shaggy clown-wig head of hair, a bulbous W.C. Fields nose, and a big, goofy Gene Shalit moustache.

Mirza's wife, who left him years ago for his best friend, is now a refugee after the latest attack by Saddam Hussein and has sent for her ex-husband's help. The three men's journey starts off as comic; they stop to play some music at a cockeyed wedding, join a class full of students atop a hill studying the ever-present war planes flying overhead, and lose their possessions to a roadside bandit.

As they get closer to their destination, the weather grows colder, and the effects of Saddam's attacks become more and more defined. The laughs grow more and more distant as well. And in spite of the silliness and slapstick leading up to it, the final moments resonate with tremendous and subtle power.

Ghobadi does a professional job of melding these disparate parts together, carefully using the hard, scraggly Kurdistan landscape and the overhead sounds of war as tie-ins. And when Barat finally becomes aware of the more serious tone and removes his sunglasses, it's actually a genuine moment.

The director still hasn't achieved the rigorous artistry or the subtlety of Kiarostami, but with such a leap in only two films, he's well on his way to earning his own lofty reputation. One thing is for sure: Marooned in Iraq gives viewers a much more immediate and lifelike look at these people in this place than the homogenized TV news coverage.

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