Yesterday Once More

Queasy Riders Remember Old Glories

So how did Biskind's "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll generation" save the motion picture industry? The social theory is familiar—the influence of foreign films and campus cinephilia, years of war and social breakdown, and the demographics of the baby boom created a new movie audience. At once self-satisfied and reproachful, Decade is looking for a somewhat newer audience. The movie's basic m.o. is a barrage of dropped names and a blitz of 10-second clips. (The craziest juxtaposition has a clip from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal underscored with "Street Fighting Man.") A Decade Under the Influence does attest to the once-upon-a-time existence of a Hollywood counterculture, but it's so reverentially heavy-handed in evoking the era that it can't help playing like Forrest Gump without Tom Hanks.

Blessed with the season's most topical title, Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi's Marooned in Iraq opens like a Upper Slobovian parody of Easy Rider. Leaning forward on his chopper, the mustachioed, middle-aged hipster Barat—resplendent in green plastic goggles—motivates through the craggy mountains of northwestern Iran, as towed by a ramshackle tractor. Jets are streaking overhead, the boombox is blasting, and in the sidecar, a kindred coot, who turns out to be some sort of corrupt doctor, is shouting, "God bless Saddam's father—thanks to him, I made a lot of money."

Irrepressible: Al Pacino's Wurman turn in People I Know
photo: Miramax Films
Irrepressible: Al Pacino's Wurman turn in People I Know


People I Know
Directed by Dan Algrant
Written by Jon Robin Baitz
Opens April 25

A Decade Under the Influence
Directed by Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme
Opens April 25, at the Quad

Marooned in Iraq
Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi
Opens April 25, at Lincoln Plaza

No less than Easy Rider, Marooned in Iraq is a music-fueled road movie. And like Ghobadi's sometimes harrowing, quasi-documentary first feature, A Time for Drunken Horses, his second one is set on the Iraq-Iran border—albeit this time in the gruesome aftermath of the first Gulf War. Saddam's air force is now bombing Iraqi Kurds and Barat's father, Mirza, is concerned for his long-estranged wife, who is currently trapped in Iraq. The old man drafts the feckless Barat and his brother, the buffoonish, bushy-haired patriarch Audeh, to accompany him on his romantic rescue mission.

Ghobadi treats this material as though it were the premise for one of Tony Gatlif or Emir Kusturica's Gypsy funkfests. Barat, Audeh, and Mirza (who gives recitals beneath an inverted dumpster) are all locally famous musicians. The movie's original title was The Songs of My Homeland—and at one point there's a mock socialist-realist (or perhaps faux Bollywood) montage of villagers working away in rhythm. Traveling from one refugee camp to another, Mirza, Barat, and Audeh are constantly called upon, and sometimes compelled, to entertain. Their wildly rhythmic numbers typically inspire spontaneous chorus lines and madcap dancing, but the movie has its poetic aspects as well: Barat hears a woman sing and immediately begins flirting with her shadow.

Cast with nonactors, Marooned in Iraq is predicated on outrageous, grizzled, toothless typage and crowded with cartoon bluster. Although Marooned is a denser, funnier movie than the more straightforward Drunken Horses, it grows increasingly grim as the characters approach Iraq. Weddings give way to wailing funerals. Beaten and robbed, the musicians cross the border into a realm of snow and barbwire to find mass graves and orphans. The ending is open; the characters separate to fulfill their individual destinies. This lusty, heartfelt movie has a near Brueghelian visual energy and a humanist passion as contagious as its music.

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