If timing is everything, then Marooned in Iraq is sitting on top of the world. Acclaimed Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi's follow-up to 2000's heartrending A Time for Drunken Horses once again traverses the treacherous border between Iraq and Iran with a trio of nomadic Kurds, although instead of Drunken Horses's child protagonists, his new film concerns an elderly singer named Mirza (Shahab Ebrahimi) and his musician sons Barat (Faegh Mohammadi) and Audeh (Allah-Morad Rashtian) in post-Gulf War Iran. The three bickering gentlemen are looking for Mirza's ex-wife Hanareh (Iran Ghobadi), who deserted her husband and their musical group years earlier to marry one of the troupe's members and continue her singing career in Iraqi Kurdistan, where she is now believed to be living. Mirza, scared by the news that Hanareh might be in trouble, coerces his two sons to go despite their misgivings, and the three set off across the barren and harsh Iranian countryside in search of news that will lead them to her.

What they discover is a people brutalized by the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, who is engaged in 1991-1992's relentless campaign of bombing both Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan's destitute villages as retribution for trying, with the first President Bush's encouragement, to rise up against him. As Mirza and his sons make their way from town to town, what they discover is a trail of blood and misery - most of the settlements are abandoned, with the men having been summarily killed by Saddam (frequently with chemical weapons) and the women forced to flee into the snowbound mountain ranges. Yet unlike his oppressively bleak debut, Marooned in Iraq is not bereft of levity. From their encounter with a matchmaker trying to appease a dissatisfied customer to Barat's blossoming love for a grieving woman and Audeh's constant complaining about his abandoned seven wives and 13 daughters (and his attempts to find yet another wife who will finally bear him a son), Ghobadi portrays the Kurds as full of resilient courage and liveliness, qualities that have helped sustain these browbeaten minorities during Saddam's reign of terror.

Continue reading: Marooned In Iraq Review