A tribute to the Kurds

Issue 

A Time for Drunken Horses
Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi
Showing at Dendy and Palace cinemas, Sydney and Melbourne.
Picture

REVIEW BY ANDREA MYLES
& OWEN RICHARDS

A Time for Drunken Horses tells the story of life in modern Kurdistan, a territory in the Middle East that overlaps the borders of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. The Kurdish people are a minority within these countries despite the fact that their numbers are in excess of 20 million.

We are introduced to the main character, Ayoub, a young adolescent man left to provide for his younger brothers and sisters, including his crippled brother Madi, after the harsh political climate and isolation leave them orphans.

Doomed to live a difficult life of economic deprivation, the young village children compete for an assortment of odd jobs in nearby towns. Day to day existence is hard for the family of children and the news that Madi's deteriorating condition requires a vital operation forces Ayoub further into smuggling across the Iran-Iraq border

The smugglers' heavily laden mules stumble up a frozen mountainside under the weight of their burden — and under the influence of the three bottles of vodka added to their drinking water. The climate is so cold that the mules will not scale the steep inclines unless drunk. The snow-covered Kurdish landscape makes for a beautiful setting, yet the cold cruelty of its vast, isolated expanse conveys a sense of the Kurdish people's harsh daily reality.

While the film never explicitly takes up the issue of the Kurds' struggle against oppression and for their own state, this issue provides the backdrop for the story. The national borders of Iran and Iraq prevent the free flow of people and goods.

The film's theme explores the triumph of love and human spirit in the face of extreme odds imposed by the geographical and political isolation of the Kurdish region of Iran. It explores the notions of family and binding emotional ties through the eyes of young Kurdish orphans living in a desolate mountain village.

Writer/director Bahman Ghobadi was born and raised in the small town of Baneh, where this film is set. A Time for Drunken Horses, his first feature film, is one of the first Iranian films shot in Kurdish, and it is Ghobadi's tribute to his Kurdish cultural heritage.

The inexperienced actors, some from the same family, live in this village. They had not seen a film before and had no concept of what a movie was. Despite this, excellent and heartbreaking performances are delivered.

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