I first came across Bahman Ghobadi while living in Bloomington-Normal; the Normal Theater showed A Time for Drunken Horses (2000). I rather admired the film, especially the way in which it deliberately broke down toward the end, as the fate of its young protagonists grew bleaker and bleaker.
Marooned in Iraq (2002) takes that idea even farther. Set around the close of the Gulf War, it portrays the journey made by a famous Iranian-Kurdish singer, Mirza, to find his ex-wife, who ran away to Iraq decades ago with his best friend. Hearing that she’s now in trouble, he enlists the help of his two sons (also musicians, and pictured above).
The first half of the film is farcical and broad, with lots of color and comic shtick. Wherever the three men go, they encounter strange people and situations, like a woman who appears only as a shadow, or a bandit who forces the men to perform at his daughter’s wedding. Mirza also receives a lot of ribbing over having lost his wife years ago.
But then, in the second half of the film, as the trio crosses into Iraq, the film grows darker and heavier, as the men begin to realize the extent of Saddam Hussein’s then-recent attacks on their people. The comedy and color drain away, and the film transitions into something no less absurd, but much harsher and existentialist.
If nothing else, you should watch from 0:33:25–0:36:30, and from 0:58:27—1:02:29. And then maybe skip ahead to the film’s last half hour, around 1:16:00 or so, to get a sense of how somber the film becomes. But really you should just watch the whole thing; it’s phenomenal. (This Onion AV Club review aptly compares it to Emir Kusturica’s 1995 masterpiece Underground.)
Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi
(As you can see, there are English subtitles.)