Category Archives: Iran

Marooned in Iraq (2002)

“We can always say we’re on tour.”

The film Marooned in Iraq from director Bahman Ghobadi is set shortly after the first Gulf War. An elderly Kurdish musician named Mizra (Shahab Ebrahimi) lives in a remote village in Iran. Mizra receives a vague message for help from his ex-wife Hanareh–a woman with a beautiful voice who left Iran where “singing is forbidden for women” to take her chances in Iraq. After receiving the message, Mizra gathers up his two middle-aged sons Barat (Faegh Mohamadi) and Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtain) and they head into Iraq. It’s an arduous, dangerous journey. They pile into Barat’s old motorbike and sidecar, and leave the relative safety of their primitive village–equipped with little more than their musical instruments. Audeh complains loudly that he doesn’t want to leave his 7 wives and 11 daughters. Barat, on the other hand, is happy to accompany his father–although he doesn’t understand why Mizra making a near-impossible journey to help a woman who ran off with his father’s best friend 23 years earlier.

On the way to Iraq, Mizra and his sons encounter hardship and adventure–including an aggressive bridegroom, camps of orphans, and marauding bandits. Mizra is famous among the Kurdish population for two things–his music and his cuckoldom. And these two things go hand in hand–the acclaim of the former soon brings on the memory of the latter. Whenever the three men stop and take out their musical instruments, crowds instantly gather. Misery and suffering take a back seat–at least temporarily–to the rare opportunity to experience the joy of music. The film does not contain a great deal of dialogue (Persian and Kurdish with English subtitles). The plot is sparse, and intense–yet the infusion of humour and hope combine to make Marooned in Iraq a superb film.
Marooned in Iraq stands as a testament to the crimes against the Kurds conducted by Saddam Hussein, and for anyone interested in how Saddam was given chemical weapons in the first place, I recommend “Spider’s Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq” by Alan Friedman.

The director is Iranian, but I’m categorizing this film under Iran, Iraq and Kurdish for obvious reasons.

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Filed under Iran, Iraqi, Kurdish, Political/social films

Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine (2000)

“I do not fear death. I fear a futile life.”

After reading that Bahman Farmanara, the director of Scent of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine  (Booye Kafoor, atre Yas) is an “Iranian Woody Allen” I couldn’t resist watching the film. Bahman Farmanara was one of Iran’s leading filmmakers in the 70s, but he went into exile after the Islamic Revolution, and recently returned to Iran. The title refers to the lotions used on corpses following death, and to a degree the title gives a foretaste of the film’s mood.

Middle-aged Bahman Farjami’s (played by the director) life starts to go downhill on the fifth anniversary of his beloved wife’s death. He begins the day by visiting her grave and discovers that the cemetery has buried another corpse in the site next to his wife–a site he paid for and reserved for his own future burial. He argues with cemetery officials, and while they insist he’s mistaken, he’s advised to return with a receipt. They are convinced that Bahman is in error and that he must have intended to be buried in the same plot with his wife in some sort of multi-layered arrangement. This multi-layering of bodies within the same site is–Bahman laments–a sign of the times. From this point, Bahman’s life begins to unravel: he’s left with an abandoned body of a dead baby, his brother-in-law goes missing, and Bahman struggles to complete the film he’s currently working on–a documentary about Iranian death rituals made for the Japanese.

While a subtle morbid sense of humour runs throughout the film, it’s a stretch to compare the director to Woody Allen. The morose tone of the film may mask some amusing moments, but it’s difficult to dig through the plot to find much humour. Instead the message seems to be the social degeneration of Iran–from the multiple layered burial plots, to the woman beaten by her husband and who is too afraid to return home with her dead child. The film has its interesting moments, but ultimately is rather depressing. In Persian with English subtitles.

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