By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated May 09, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Marooned in Iraq is part rollicking road picture, part ardent homage to ethnic homeland, and part unexpected last laugh for Iran-based Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, whose previous fine film, ”A Time for Drunken Horses,” also took place on the unyieldingly rocky, snow-choked Iran-Iraq border. Set at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War but shot two years ago in Iran and Iraq, Ghobadi’s sometimes outrageous drama features Kurds who survived Saddam Hussein’s murderous post-war bout of bombing and gassing, cursing a dictator who was toppled just weeks ago in real life. Yet the rush of news only intensifies the power of the story, about a white-haired father and his two middle-aged sons — well-known Kurdish musicians with the wacky looks and antic sensibilities of three stooges — who make a picaresque journey from Iran to Iraq to help the old man find his ex-wife.

In the course of their progress, the trio interrupts a wedding, is robbed by thieves, and makes raucous music for orphaned children. (The faces of the cast, none professional actors, are vivid maps of survival.) By the end, the old man has also met keening widows and consoled a mysterious veiled woman whose voice has been ruined to a squeaky whisper by chemical weapons. Nothing I’ve read about Iraq or seen on TV in the past few weeks has felt nearly as real and intimate as this commanding fiction.