A Time for Drunken Horses

A Time for Drunken Horses

2000, NR, 80 min. Directed by Bahman Ghobadi. Starring Ayoub Ahmadi, Ameneh Ekhtiar-Dini, Rojin Younessi, Mehdi Ekhtiar-Dini.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Nov. 17, 2000

The “horses” of this bleak slice-of-life drama by debuting Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi are actually the most pitiful of mules, fed bottles of liquor to keep them warm and docile during trips across the no-fly zone at the Iran-Iraq border. Weighed down with tractor tires filled with black-market goods, the mules stumble along the frozen, rocky countryside of Kurdistan, numb to the threat of ambushes -- dangers ever-present in the minds of their masters, villagers forced to rely on smuggling. The film opens with the sound of an off-camera interview between an adult voice and Ameneh (Ameneh Ekhtiar-dini), the young Kurdish girl whose intermittent voice-overs provide the only exposition. With her older brother, Ayoub (Ahmadi), Ameneh scrambles for day-labor jobs in the local bazaar, where children wrap purchases in newspaper and carry heavy parcels on their backs. At day's end, the children crowd the back of a truck and attempt to cross the border, hiding ill-gotten notebooks for school under their shirts. When their father is killed while smuggling, Ayoub goes to work to support the family of six, though he's only a boy; the family's teenage son, Madi (Mehdi Ekhtiar-Dini), is severely crippled, with a tiny body and the mind of a very young child. Madi needs constant medication, choked down with snow and saliva, and will surely die without the operation Ayoub is seemingly powerless to provide. The devil haunts a hungry man, and the Kurds are no exception: Even this family of children is cruelly betrayed by their own as they struggle to survive. But there's a certain warmth even to this forbidding landscape, with its snowed-over farmlands full of land mines, because of the children's simple displays of love, loyalty, and dignity. Ghobadi works squarely in the neorealist tradition of countrymen like former mentor Abbas Kiarostami, using nonprofessional actors and documentary technique to tell small, spare stories of the human condition through the eyes of children. There's very little dramatic momentum of a conventional nature and almost no music or emotional cues, just total immersion in the tooth-and-nail lives of the Kurdish people, whose situation isn't elucidated for viewers who might be unfamiliar or unconcerned with it and are by no means the intended audience here. And despite a storyline that would seem downright melodramatic out of its context of pervasive suffering, Ghobadi's approach is grimly straightforward. Arresting images -- such as Ameneh praying in a meager cemetery for a miracle to save Madi -- tell the story alone.

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New Iraqi drama by Iranian Kurd Bahman Ghobadi is lyrical and heart-wrenching as it focuses on the children of conflict.

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A Time for Drunken Horses, Bahman Ghobadi, Ayoub Ahmadi, Ameneh Ekhtiar-Dini, Rojin Younessi, Mehdi Ekhtiar-Dini

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