A revelatory feature debut by Ghobadi, whose work with child actors and eye for natural landscapes is remarkable, telling a story of perseverance amid desperation set near the porous if dangerous Iran-Iraq border.
Dir. Bahman Ghobadi
2000 | Iran | Drama | 78 mins | 1.66:1 | Kurdish & Persian
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Ayoub Ahmadi, Rojin Younessi, Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini, Madi Ekhtiar-dini
Plot: After their father dies, a family of five is forced to survive on their own in a Kurdish village on the border of Iran. 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.
Awards: Won Camera d’Or & FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2
Subject Matter: Moderate – Life Struggles; Sibling Relationships
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
I’ve been dying to see this film for a long time, ever since Iranian writer-director Bahman Ghobadi left me speechless with Turtles Can Fly (2004), a drama about refugee children tasked to clear undetonated American mines in order to sell their parts in the black market.
With this debut feature, which won the Cannes Camera d’Or—the same prize that Jafar Panahi won for The White Balloon just five years earlier—Ghobadi shows his impressive skill in directing child actors and working with horses in harsh natural conditions.
A family of kids (who remarkably play themselves) must survive on their own after their father dies, doing odd jobs to put food on the table. One of them is severely handicapped, requiring a life-saving operation. Much of the burden falls on Ayoub, who tags along with other adults to smuggle items across the porous Iran-Iraq border.
“While I’m around, you have no rights at all.”
In order to make the arduous mountainous journey more bearable, these people force their horses to drink alcohol, keeping them warm and numb. The sight of drunken horses loaded with heavy tyres traversing the snowy terrain is quite something to behold.
Very much shot in the spirit of neorealism, A Time for Drunken Horses is about perseverance amid desperation, told from the point-of-view of innocent, if sometimes, naïve children. It packs a powerful emotional punch but what makes Ghobadi’s work even more potent is how clear-eyed it is despite a narrative built on uncertainties.
Here in this sobering reality, kids must grow up faster than they could imagine while mistreated horses must take a Bressonian leaf out of the Saint Donkey’s book.