MAROONED IN IRAQNR
When Bahman Ghobadi's first film, A Time For Drunken Horses, was released in the U.S., Bush fils was a presidential candidate, fewer Americans could locate Iraq on a map, and film critics writing about Ghobadi felt compelled to explain Kurdish identity. Ghobadi's film was set near the Iran/Iraq border, the ancestral home of the Kurds. The world has changed since then, but the Kurds have not--their dream of a Kurdish state is still a dream. Real barriers separate them geographically and linguistically, as surely as the less tangible struggles of stateless people divide their spirits. Ghobadi's films are about these obstacles to Kurdish gestalt, but they are also epics which establish the Kurds' claim to singularity.
In A Time for Drunken Horses, children cross the hazardous Iran/Iraq border and in Marooned in Iraq, three men take to the open road to traverse the same dividing line. Ghobadi's first film was about the Kurds' struggle for survival; his second is about an old man's search for his lost love. Twenty-three years ago, Mirza's wife Hanareh ran away with his best friend Seyed, and now she is stranded at the border at the outbreak of the Gulf War. The three had once played in a band together; Hanareh was a singer. With the advent of Iran's theocracy, women were forbidden to sing in public, and so Seyed and Hanareh crossed the border into Iraq. Mirza learns that Seyed is dead and Hanareh is in danger, so he asks his two sons, Audeh and Barat, to accompany him on a journey to rescue her. The sons remember Hanareh as a woman who brought shame to their family, the wife their father divorced, but Mirza tells them they're mistaken.
Mirza and his sons are well-known to all the Kurds they meet on the road; although Mirza no longer sings--he teaches children to play native Kurdish instruments--Audeh and Barat are continually asked to sing, and they always happily comply. Their music, and ongoing family arguments, mostly droll parleys between Mirza and Audeh, are in stark contrast to Mirza's more pressing and implacable commitment to rescue Hanareh, the woman he has never ceased to love. The open road in the first half of the film, in Iranian Kurdistan, is filled with unexpected and comic circumstances for the troika, but the second half, in Iraqi Kurdistan, is rife with hazards. The Kurds, however, are the same; they share a jocoseness and a love of music, evident even at an orphanage where there are hundreds of homeless children.
Marooned in Iraq, like A Time for Drunken Horses, is both celebratory and elegiac. Mirza's quest for Hanareh is a symbolic journey, a search to regain the eternal feminine which was lost to him when his wife ran away. Mirza's son seems destined to repeat his father's error. Barat, a bachelor, falls in love with a woman after hearing her voice. The woman says she will accept his marriage proposal if he teaches her to sing. Barat replies that he will, but only so that she can sing for him alone. The woman demurs. Barat's response illustrates that odd combination of self-destructiveness and resilience which for Ghobadi characterizes the Kurds: Men take to the open road to rediscover what will complete them and what they have continually oppressed.
In a striking montage at the beginning of the film, Ghobadi shows Audeh's wives and daughters using their hands and feet to make adobe bricks. Other women, equally silent, are often seen tilling the fields or gathering food. They know the Earth, the land that is Kurdistan, more intimately than the men do. Until women like Hanareh can sing, until women's voices are heard, the Kurdish state will remain an unrealized dream. The men will undertake their quests in search of the completion women represent and that, with love, has always been within their reach. At the end of the film, when Mirza claims Hanareh's baby daughter and steps back over the border to Iran, history repeats itself. But maybe not--maybe there's a baptism in the newly fallen snow, and a newfound wisdom in Mirza's broken heart.