Thursday, December 23, 2004

Marooned In Iraq

Last night was the final screening of our short season of four films under the rubric of "Between War and Peace". Bahman Ghobadi’s Marooned In Iraq has received praise and criticism in almost equal measure since its premiere in 2002. The praise is, I think, well-deserved for Ghobadi has already established an international reputation for his A Time For Drunken Horses, a deeply moving tale of the pain and suffering endured by a family of Kurdish orphans stranded on the Iranian-Iraqi border. Marooned In Iraq embellishes that reputation and the range of Ghobadi's cinematic canvas.

The controversy is inevitably political. Ghobadi is an Iranian Kurd who has fought tooth-and-nail to represent the interests of his people on film and when he speaks. And the context of Marooned In Iraq is provided by Saddam Hussein’s brutal assault on the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Despite the widespread international solidarity with the Kurdish struggle for autonomy or independence - not only in Iraq, of course, but notably in Turkey - the fact that Ghobadi dared to attack Saddam's genocidal policy led the film to be banned in some countries – including Malaysia. Using the amoral logic of international relations - where one's enemy's enemy becomes one's friend - the official board, Censorship Film Malaysia, claimed last year that
the film was a weapon of US propaganda that could "dangerously jeopardize relations between Malaysia and Iraq". The board told the Malaysian film distributor Suraya Film Production: "This film is an attempt to prove that Saddam Hussein's government possesses the chemical weapons which contravene international law .... Our political situation at present supports peace in Iraq and not war and for that reason we have banned Marooned in Iraq". And in all of this, suddenly the Kurdish people found themselves friendless, portrayed as stooges of the American offensive in Iraq, as if their centuries-long struggle counted for nothing.

Happily, Marooned In Iraq was released for distribution in Malaysia in May 2003 and has received much wider worldwide exhibition in the past year, so that people can judge for themselves the cinematic qualities and political arguments that Ghobadi lays before us. Basically this is a kind of alternative road movie – telling the story of Mirza, an aging celebrated Kurdish singer, along with his musician sons, Barat and Audeh, who embark on a journey in search of Mirza’s ex-wife Hanareh. She left him 23 years ago to marry his brother, Seyed. Now, Mirza has received word that she is singing for the Kurdish refugees on the Iran-Iraq border and is in need of his help. To persuade his reluctant sons to accompany him on this perilous journey, he tells them he really did not divorce Hanareh but only claimed he did to save the family's honour. Barat, the older son, and Audeh, the younger son who says he needs to stay home to take care of his seven wives and thirteen daughters, grudgingly agree to go. And so their baroque journey begins.

Despite the context of the war, and unlike his earlier film, Ghobadi takes a wider view of life through humour, sadness, bitterness, satire and tragedy. In a recent interview Ghobadi explains that it wasn't so much an intellectual shift, as a visceral one:

The Kurds have undergone all this tyranny through the ages. It's as if they've been injected with frowns. To combat this, they seek refuge in humor and passionate music. This will get them through, this gives them hope for a destination that is other than bitter. As we speak, in the encampments, they're sitting with the saucepans, beating them, making music and dancing. This is how they live. Just as there is no way that you could find a single Kurd who has not lost someone - every single one has lost a relative, someone close to him, at least one - there is not a single Kurd who doesn't know how to make music. They’re almost intoxicated by the fate that has befallen them. They don’t how to transcend it other than in this way. This merging of humor and tragedy is the essence of Kurdish life.
Watch the film.


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