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Marooned In Iraq (Gomgashtei dar Aragh)
2002 - NR - 108 Mins.
Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Producer: Bahman Ghobadi
Written By: Bahman Ghobadi
Starring: Shahab Ebrahimi, Faegh Mohammadi, Allah-Morad Rashtian, Iran Ghobadi, Rojan Hosseini, Saeed Mohammadi
Review by: David Trier
   
I just had to go to the movies and the only thing playing that looked even remotely interesting was in Kurdish. So here goes…

Old Kurdish singer Mirza (Shahab Ebrahimi) is famous in Iran for his musical troupe that lightened the hearts of the Kurdish people. But the band broke up when his wife Henarah ran off to Iraq with a band member and now, many years later, Mirza learns he must go to her but doesn’t know yet why. He convinces his two musician sons to go with him. Barat (Faegh Mohammadi) is unattached and has little reason not to go on the treacherous journey across the mountains. Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtian) has seven wives and thirteen daughters, refusing to leave women alone until one bears him a son. He is coerced into the trip by his father’s bickering. On their journey, they encounter thieves and victims of theft, as well as destitute orphanages, desolate refugee camps and sickening mass graves. But each of these experiences will mean something for our three heroes and, bickering aside, the journey is a meaningful one.

It’s difficult to review a movie so deeply imbedded in a culture Americans know so little about. Marooned in Iraq, which couldn’t possible be a direct translation of the title since it does not represent the film, is awfully slow at times. But then maybe it doesn’t seem as slow to Iranian moviegoers who appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the language and history. Some of the acting is beautifully emotional while some of it seems absurdly theatrical. In one instance, I was pretty sure the character had forgotten his lines and then picked it up after a beat, but I was only ever half sure what he was really saying. Maybe he was really saying something like “What was I about to say?” and the subtitles only came up with “I am unhappy”.

Rashtian’s Barat is a likable loud-mouthed teddy-bear of a man whose consistent anger at being dragged along the journey is matched only by the fact that he never abandons his father. His quest to find a woman that will give him a son is delightfully thrown on its head when someone convinces him to adopt two war-orphaned boys. “Two sons and not another wife?!” he exclaims joyfully. Mohammadi is believable as the more patient free-spirited brother. He proclaims his love for a woman he hears singing, but turns her off when he says she could only sing for him if they married. Later he may make up for it by helping her look for the body of her brother. There are a few wonderfully acted supporting characters, particularly by the women (whose names I can’t seem to find online).

But the dragging pace and occasionally suspicious acting does not completely detract from some very powerful story concepts. While I may have been shifting occasionally in my seat, I still feel like I knew these people by the end and really wished them well. The film captures a realistic image of Kurdistan at the time of Saddam Hussein’s ruthless punishment for Kurdish support of Iran. The horror of a battered and displaced people is immediately understood. And in the midst of people suffering and others profiting from that very suffering, is a human spirit that is completely recognizable to anyone, brought out most vividly through musical performance. I couldn’t help think how much these Kurdish people on one side of the planet, reminded me of Latin people on another side or Southeast Asians on yet another.

In closing, I can’t say this is a movie you all need to run out and see. But where it struggles with its sometimes tiring efforts to propel the story, writer/director/producer Bahman Ghobadi is successful in selling its characters. Interesting side note – he won the Golden Plaque Award at the Chicago International Film Festival but refused to accept it when the US wouldn’t grant him a visa.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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