- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

The most compelling movies from Iran create the impression that filmmakers are struggling to summarize prodigious social and emotional conflicts with limited technical resources and cultural props. It’s possible that Bahman Ghobadi, the Kurdish Iranian who directed “Marooned in Iraq,” exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle, has a virtual monopoly on stories set in Kurdistan, where he was born and travels with regularity, sometimes accompanied by a cast and camera crew. It would be preferable if several sets of eyes and ears were preoccupied with this part of the world, but Mr. Ghobadi’s dedication and familiarity provide us with a single, invaluable perspective.

Set in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, “Marooned” revolves around a Kurdish family group that ventures into refugee encampments along the border in search of a long-lost relative. The search party consists of an elderly father named Mirza (Shahab Ebrahimi) and his middle-aged sons, Barat (Faegh Mohammadi) and Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtian). All three are folk musicians and sing for their supper at various stops along the way. Barat is a bachelor who prides himself on his motorcycle, destined to become the property of thieves and smugglers. Audeh is an oversubscribed family man with seven wives, 13 daughters and an abiding need to father a son. The journey confronts him with so many orphans that he begins to recognize the virtue of acquiring sons by adoption.

Only Mirza has a keen personal interest in the object of the search: his former wife Hanareh, who deserted him two decades earlier for a colleague. She is not the mother of Barat or Audeh, who accompany their dad out of filial piety — and perhaps to keep the act together. The odyssey is contrived to deprive the men of certain possessions and illusions while leaving them with potential consolation in the form of exemplary new acquaintances and the care of children in desperate need of protection.

The episodes tend to be bewildering and inconclusive, but the rugged, isolated settings enhance Mr. Ghobadi’s poetic sense of imagery, especially imagery that evokes exile and struggle. There’s a remarkable flight of paper airplanes over a precipice, launched by the students at a remote school and orphanage. The movie concludes with a stunning composition of Mirza shouldering a small human burden across a snowbound landscape. It’s a shot that expresses the movie’s essential humanism more effectively than a circuitous plot.

In a way, it’s incredible that Mirza is willing to start all over as a foster father at his age. At the same time, you’re not surprised. In a literal sense, “Marooned in Iraq” doesn’t always translate with adequate clarity. In metaphorical terms, it often finds the right image for expressing fundamental longings and obligations.

**

TITLE: “Marooned in Iraq”

RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter, with allusions to mass murder and the plight of refugees; fleeting graphic violence and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi. Cinematography by Se’ed Nikzat and Shahriar Asadi. Music by Arsalan Komkar. In Kurdish with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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