A Time For Drunken Horses
Simple stories about intrepid children overcoming poverty and affliction are not especially rare among Iranian films, but few are as resolutely unsentimental as A Time For Drunken Horses, first-time director Bahman Ghobadi's forceful plea on behalf of the Kurds. By description, his tale about orphaned siblings raising money for a life-saving operation sounds outrageously mawkish, especially when the patient turns out to be a pain-wracked teenager forever confined to an infant's small, frail body. But while this premise lends a near-frantic urgency to their plight, Ghobadi doesn't pause a second to mine for pity or crocodile tears. Returning to his native village, situated high in a snowy mountain pass near the Iran-Iraq border, he shows more interest in the daily lives of a displaced people and their constant, perilous struggle for survival. Leading a cast of striking non-professionals, Ayoub Ahmadi plays a tough-minded 12-year-old who's the default provider for his four siblings, eking out a meager living by smuggling goods across the border. Without so much as the assurance of pay, the kids trudge through waist-deep snow, navigate terrain littered with landmines, and risk the occasional ambush from soldiers armed with machine guns. Told that his diseased brother needs an immediate operation, Ahmadi's elder sister agrees to marry an Iraqi Kurd on the condition that the family will pay for the procedure. But when they renege on the deal, offering a single mule instead, Ahmadi is forced to drag the animal across the border in the scant hope that he'll find a buyer before it's too late. Clocking in at a lean 77 minutes, A Time For Drunken Horses is almost single-minded in purpose, forging ahead with the gritty determination of its protagonists. If the characters seem thinly conceived, it may be because the landscape is such an imposing and dominant force in their lives; seen on a large screen, Ghobadi's grueling slopes and harsh winds give off a chill to rival Dr. Zhivago or Derzu Uzala. The title refers to the whiskey the workhorses (and their owners) are given to warm their bodies and numb the pain, a potent metaphor for conditions that might otherwise be impossible to bear.