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A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES (ZAMANI BARAYE MASTI ASHBHA)(director/writer: Bahman Ghobadi; cinematographer: Saed Nikzat; editor: Samad Tavazoi; music: Hossein Alizadeh; cast: Nazhad Ekhtiar-Dini (Nazhad), Rojine Younessi (Rojine), Ayoub Ahmadi (Ayoub), Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini (Amaneh), Madi Ekhtiar-dini (Madi); Runtime: 80; Shooting Gallery; 2000-Iran/France)
A very moving film about a desperate people and their love of family.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Survival is the theme of this heartwarming film about the Kurds, a poor people of 20-million who have no homeland and are located in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

A fascinating realistic look at the Iranian Kurds living in a wintry border town in the rugged mountain passes on the Iranian side of the nearby northern Iraqui border. The film is about the plight of a family to save their crippled brother, someone they all love greatly. The youngsters must forget their childhood and assume their roles as adults. The youngsters’ mother died when delivering their sister, and soon after they are told by their uncle their smuggler father died with his valuable mule in a landmine.

The 30-year-old Iranian Kurd director, Mr. Ghobadi, who worked as an assistant to the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, uses nonprofessional actors from the local village in an effectively natural way to make his director’s debut with this fictional film that looks and feels like a documentary. He sets the film in Sardab, the Kurdish village where he was born, as he becomes the first Iranian Kurd director and this film the first done in Kurdish.

The main villager occupation is in the dangerous business of smuggling goods by mule across valleys strewn with landmines and roads where bandits lay ambushes, and they also fear the foreboding searches by military patrols.

There are five young Iranian Kurdish children at home: Amaneh, an adolescent girl; Ayoub, her brother, who is 12 and acts as the head of the family; Rojine who is the oldest teenager and now acts as the mother; Kolsoom the little girl most recently born; and Madi, their 15-year-old brother, a non-speaking crippled dwarf with a fragile and twisted body and an expressively sad face, who is dying from an incurable disease and is being treated with pills and injections by the local doctor and tender loving care by his brothers and sisters. The village doctor tells the family that if Madi doesn’t get an operation soon he will die, and even if he gets the operation he will only die a little later.

The children go to town everyday to work at menial jobs such as wrapping glasses for commercial trade, or carrying heavy loads to the marketplace. They work to eat, being in an impoverished place there is no regard for child labor exploitations or is there a high value placed on education.

The family has no money to get the operation in Iran, but Ayoub gets the dangerous adult work as a smuggler so he can save up enough money to get Madi the operation in Iraq. But his efforts are futile, no matter how hard he works he can’t get the money. He’s cheated by middlemen and the little money he receives goes to feed the family. Rojine then plots with the uncle for an arranged marriage with another Kurd family in a distant Iraqi Kurdish village, with the promise made that they would take care of Madi and get him an operation in Iraq. When Ayoub protests to the uncle that he wasn’t informed, he’s rebuffed by his elder and told to know his place. When Rojine is delivered with Madi bundled up on the mule, the new family does not accept Madi and refuses to give Rojine a divorce. They buy the family off with a mule when they protest. This forces Ayoub to take his brother on mule into Iraq on a hazardous smuggling run, where he plans to sell the mule to get the money for the operation. The filmmaker seems to be saying Iraq has better and more affordable technology than Iran.

It’s a very moving film about a desperate people and their love of family. It won the Camera d’Or, for best first film, at Cannes. This unsentimental film is in the very best tradition of human drama stories, and though it’s bleak and heartbreaking it also is a very positive story about the human spirit. There is a power in this film that Hollywood films find difficult to duplicate. The power comes because this film is emotionally involving and intense. Also, hidden behind the simple kid pic theme is a deeper political message: the rights of ethnic minority Kurds in Iran and elsewhere. This film puts a face on the Kurds we read about in the newspapers, but still might find it hard to envision what their life is like.

The title refers to the smugglers’ practice of giving their mules water mixed with alcohol to keep them moving in the cold. What I learned, is that if you give them 4 bottles of alcohol it is too much for them and they will get too drunk to move.

REVIEWED ON 1/30/2002 GRADE: A –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”