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After their father dies, a family of five are forced to survive on their own in a Kurdish village on the border of Iran and Iraq. Matters are made worse when 12 year old Ayoub, the new head of the family, is told that his handicapped brother, Madi, needs an immediate operation in order to remain alive. This heartbreaking tale shows the lengths to which a family will go in order to survive in the harshest of conditions, where even the horses are fed liquor in order to work. Written by
Jonathan Beebe <email@example.com>
In his most recent film, "A Time for Drunken Horses," Director Bahman Ghobadi depicts the hardship of life in the Kurdish region straddling the border between Iran and Iraq.
At the beginning of the film, a truck full of children makes its way through the snowy Iranian mountains. The large group of children sing in Arabic about how the winding road makes them older. You get the sense that they don't really know what they are singing about, but the song is indicative of how many of these children will be thrust into the realities of adulthood with little warning and even less preparation.
A young Kurd, Ayoub, must avert government brutality and raise the money to pay for an operation for his ailing younger brother.
Their father has just been killed by authorities and the teen must work to provide for the rest of the family. The only way he can raise the money is by smuggling goods across the border from Iraq to Iran, risking extremely cold temperatures, land mines and military raids.
Much to his credit, Ghobadi uses locals instead of professional actors throughout the film. The children who portray the three major characters (Ayoub, his sister Amaneh and their young, disabled brother Madi) give brilliant, fresh performances. Ayoub and Amaneh are convincing as a brother and sister attempting to hold their family together.
These children shed real tears. In a particularly impressive moment, Ayoub wrestles to move a drunken mule who won't budge as troops with rifles converge on his convoy. The power of his fear and frustration lights up the screen.
By the same token, some of the adult actors are unprofessional and wooden. Minor characters, like Ayoub's uncle, are painful to watch as they attempt to act. But thankfully these characters are periphery.
As an artistic film coming from the Middle East, one might not expect much from the technical aspects of the film. The cinematography, however, rivals some of the slickest Hollywood productions. The sweeping ice-blue snow that lines the mountains in the film provides a stark contrast with the characters' bright costumes, particularly Madi's trademark, tiny yellow raincoat.
The textured sound design adds depth to the picture. The rich, crisp amplification of even the tiniest sounds are an example of the film's attention to detail. From the buttoning of a coat to the smacking of lips, small sounds stand out and give the film an intimate feel.
The film derives its title from the mules that are given alcohol so they'll traverse the snowy terrain.
At the end of the film, when Ayoub is trying to get Madi across the border, the drunken mules turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
And the ambiguous final shot will make you cringe.
Briskly paced, the film unearths beauty in simplicity. Ghobadi clearly is a talented director, and in this film about growing up too fast he paints a beautiful, sad picture.
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