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A Time For Drunken Horses  

Cast: Ayoub Ahmadi...............Ayoub
Rojin Younessi.............Rojin
Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini........Amaneh
Madi Ekhitar-dini..........Madi
Directed by: Bahman Ghobadi
Written by: Bahman Ghobadi

A non-Arab Middle Eastern ethnic group, the Kurds are made up of primarily Sunni Muslims, with Jewish and Christian minorities interspersed among them. They are considered the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own. They reside in an area known as Kurdistan, which includes parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Ongoing political turmoil has caused many to take refuge in Europe and the United States. A distinct Kurdish language does not exist, as the various governments engage in assimilation tactics to prevent the Kurds from developing their own culture...

In Turkey, until fairly recently they were referred to as Mountian Turks instead of being allowed to identify themselves as Kurds. In Iran, they live as a Sunni minority in a Shi'ite-dominated theocracy, with their leaders the targets of assassination plots executed by Iranian agents abroad. In Iraq, they are finally enjoying the freedom of teaching their culture and language while possessing their own parliament and media. And in Syria, they still suffer from limitation on their cultural rights. Some are not even recognized as citizens.

Bahman Ghobadi's "A Time for Drunken Horses" is a simple story of amazing power depicting the hardships of a family of Kurdish children living in a remote, mountainous area near the Iran-Iraq border. Living a life of brutal economic depravity, Ayoub (Ayoub Ahmadi) and the other village boys compete for a trip into a nearby town where they are offered an assortment of odd jobs, including smuggling items under their clothes. With their mother dead and their father away, Ayoub takes on the role of provider to his three sisters and two brothers. A new hardship presents itself when Ayoub is informed that his handicapped brother, Madi (Madi Ekhitar-dini) is in dire need of an operation and will die soon if one is not administered. Despite being told that the operation will only prolong Madi's life for a few months, the fiercely determined family sets out to help him. Ayoub takes on a job smuggling goods across the border, but is still unable to earn enough money for the operation. His older sister, Rojin (Rojin Younessi) subsequently agrees to marry an Iraqi Kurd under the condition that the groom's family will pay for Madi's procedure. When that condition isn't met, Ayoub begins a treacherous trek across the border with Madi in tow, hoping to sell the mule he has brought with him, then provide Madi with the operation he so desperately needs.

Using actual inhabitants of the depicted locations rather than trained actors, director Ghobadi films his story in a manner devoid of any kind of clunky narrative mechanics. The children display the gruelling plight in a powerful yet simplistic manner; there is a distinct sense of urgency yet very little self-conscious gloom. When forced to survive in conditions of the sort, children locate the necessary fortitude within themselves without brooding over their situation; the trait embodied perfectly by the young cast.

Ghobadi is supremely confident in the raw emotional power impacted within his story and therefore wisely doesn't feel the need to accentuate the drama with an ostentatious musical score or needlessly overwrought camera moves. The film may not be a genuine documentary, but it sure plays that way. His confidence in the material is no doubt born from his own experiences as an adolescent growing up in western Iran during the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. His childhood memories and experiences are the subject of his many short films, including "The Notebook," "God's Fish," and "Life in Fog," upon which "A Time for Drunken Horses" is based.

The title refers to the act of smugglers intoxicating horses so they may carry the heavy loads forced upon their backs over the treacherous moutain paths in frigid temperatures. It's an act as inhumane as the conditions facing those living the Kurdistan are arduous. Only in the most difficult times does the human spirit have the potential to shine brightest. "A Time for Drunken Horses" understands that notion ... and powerfully depicts it.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

Critically Ill

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