Political Film Society - Newsletter #170 - June 1, 2003

June 1, 2003


Marooned in Iraq (Gomgashtei dar Aragh), directed by Bahman Ghobadi, is perhaps an Iranian counterpart of Saving Private Ryan (1998). Mirza (played by Shahab Ebrahimi) has been summoned by his estranged fourth spouse, Hanareh, presumably from a place in Iran's Kurdistan at the border with Iraq. A consummate singer, she has been entertaining refugees streaming out of Iraq due to the chemical warfare conducted by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in the aftermath of the Gulf War of 1991. As a good husband, Mirza proceeds to the northwest corner of Iran with his sons Audeh (played by Allah-Morad Rashtian) and Barat (played by Faegh Mohammadi); all three men and Hanareh are renowned musicians. While the three travel to the snowbound north, they hear of a litany of atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds. The first word about the fate of the Kurds comes from a fellow traveler, who goes to the border to trade, boasting that he makes a lot of money selling to the refugees; but in time he is stripped of all his money and most of his clothes by unidentified bandits among the refugees. Two other men, including one who claims to be a police officer, are also stripped of all but thermal underwear by thieves. At one point, Mirza and his two sons reach the border, at a camp consisting of children who have been orphaned by Saddam Hussein, whose forces massacred all the people in an Iraqi Kurdistan town. While they are learning from a schoolteacher (played by Saeed Mohammadi), they observe Iraqi planes bombing various targets, including villages and refugee convoys. Audeh has no son despite attempts with seven wives, so he is overjoyed when two of the female refugee workers informs him that he can easily adopt two sons from the camp; he is especially pleased that he can gain male heirs without the inconvenience of having an eighth wife, though he is scolded by one of the women in the camp for his sexism.

Meanwhile, Barat begins a love affair with one of the women. As Mirza is about to trudge forward to Iraq's Kurdistan in the snow beyond the camp, which may contain landmines, Barat wants to accompany him. However, the schoolteacher warns Mirza that Iraqi authorities will capture his son, force him to be a soldier in their army, and he might never be seen again. Accordingly, Mirza tells Barat to stay behind and consummate the incipient love affair. When he reaches Raman, the village where Hanareh is supposed to reside, he discovers that the town no longer exists; indeed, the Kurds are discovering mass graves. The residents have either been shot, captured, or have fled. Because of the use of chemicals, the few surviving women are disfigured and unable to produce milk for their infants. One of the women is Hanareh, but she refuses to identify herself to Mirza, and her voice has been so damaged by the chemical warfare that Mirza cannot recognize her. Instead, she gives Mirza her son so that he can care for him. Hanareh, in short, called for Mirza to take a long and perilous trip to give her son a chance to live. The obvious contrast between the caring Iranians in the film and the evidence of brutality of the Saddam Hussein may appear to be an exercise in propaganda, but political aspects are in the background. The foreground of the plot is about a husband who dutifully responds to a call of distress from a wife whom he has not seen in the twenty-three years since she decided to abandon him and live in Iraq's Kurdistan as wife of another man, Seyed, who in turn he learns toward the end was yet another victim of Saddam Hussein. At the same time, the film can be seen as a plea for better treatment of the Kurds. Based on the fact that Iran provided a safe haven to many Iraqi refugees for more than a decade, Marooned in Iraq also explains why Iran will have a great deal of popularity in post-Saddam Iraq. Indeed, Marooned in Iraq is the first movie to open in newly liberated Baghdad. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Marooned in Iraq as best film exposé of 2003. MH