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[whitespace] 'A Time for Drunken Horses'
Horse Voice: Young Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini narrates the perilous journey of five Kurdish children forced into smuggling to survive.

Beastly Burdens

'A Time for Drunken Horses' chronicles a Kurdish family's many misfortunes

By Richard von Busack

THERE ARE PEOPLE, lots of them, who'll swear to the magic qualities of the film A Time for Drunken Horses, which opens a month-long series of new Iranian film at the Camera Cinemas. In an interview with David Walsh, director Bahman Ghobadi claims that at a tear-soaked U.S. screening of his film, "One woman came up with a stack of hundred-dollar bills and said, 'Please, take this money and give it to the kids.'" Still, this drama of snow and beaten animals seems slight for all its suffering.

The film begins with the narration by Amaneh (Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini), a young girl, one of five Kurdish children left motherless in the hills; the Kurds are a stateless nation spread around the mountains of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. These children are recruited into smuggling across the mountain passes in winter. Ayoub (Ayoub Ahmadi), the elder brother, enlists himself as a smuggler. He's also taking care of his dwarfed brother, Madi (Madi Ekhtiar-dini), who needs an operation to save his life.

Moments of A Time for Drunken Horses are well-observed, especially a scene in which two families are arranging the marriage of the elder sister Rojin (Rojin Younessi). The sickly Madi, small enough to fit into a backpack, is playing a silent guessing game with his uncle, oblivious to his sister's fate being decided next to him. The director shows us how the Kurds give their horses vodka to help them survive the cold. (During one freezing day, the smugglers overdo it, and the horses splay out in the snow, too drunk to walk.) Mostly, it seems, what gets smuggled is truck tires, and maybe what Ghobadi captures best is this singular absurdity--scrubby horses wading through the snowdrifts to deliver parts for the cars that made them obsolete.

The story hinges on a timely operation and a young girl's sacrifice. The stacking up of misfortunes seems suspiciously convenient to wring hearts, despite the naturalistic style of the film. Rojin goes into an arranged marriage to pay for Madi's surgery--surgery that we hear will only allow him to live a few months longer. If it is her decision, finally, to go along with it, is this because among the Kurds a girl child isn't as valuable as a boy, no matter what his physical condition? Or if the film is a protest against arranged marriage, why does it make the benefits of the tradeoff so clear, thus giving a backhanded nobility to Rojin's sacrifice? Isn't an ordinary arranged marriage sad enough under any circumstances?

A Time for Drunken Horses ends abruptly--with an ending too open to look like anything but a missing reel. Ultimately, the film seems to be saying that "suffering is the lot of these people, world without end." This fatalism may be common sense, but it gives some of the audience justification to shut off their feelings--the part of the audience, I mean, that doesn't have a stack of $100 bills handy to give away.

A Time for Drunken Horses (Not rated; 80 min.), written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi, photographed by Saed Nikzat and starring Ayoub Ahmadi, Rojin Younessi, Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini and Madi Ekhtiar-dini, opens Friday at the Towne Theatre in San Jose.

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From the April 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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