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Recensies / A Time for Drunken Horses

review by Jaap Mees



“One of the most profound and truthful films ever made!”

Now and then a film comes along that blows you out of your seat and cleans your soul of all the rubbish you see daily on TV. Such a film is ‘A Time For Drunken Horses’, a first feature written and directed by Iranian Kurd Bahman Ghobadi (30). He won very rightly the Golden Camera for Best First Film in Cannes this year, shared with another Iranian filmmaker Hassan Yektapanah. The film tells the story of five children, whose mother has died and father is away to make a living with smuggling. They live in the barren mountainous are near the Iran-Iraq border in the Kurdish region of Iran. Ayoub, the oldest boy, has taken on the responsibility of the father. Together with his three sisters and two brothers they struggle to survive. As if there is not enough hardship already, their handicapped brother Madi, who is only a teenager, but has the face of an old worried man, needs an operation in hospital to prolong his life. Ayoub does everything in his ability to raise money, but doesn’t succeed. As a last resort, he asks his elder sister Rojine to marry an unloved rich Iraqi suitor, to get the necessary money for the operation.

The film gives a clear and carefully framed idea, and a real sense of living in harsh mountain conditions in a Kurdish village. Director Ghobadi and his excellent cameraman Saed Nikzat, have a great eye for detail and an a moving awareness of beauty in barren and harsh conditions. This shows in the way the children’s strong and beautiful features are shown in close up and in the truly poetic way this film is made. ‘A Time For Drunken Horses’ is already compared to gems like ‘Bicycle Thieves’, ‘Forbidden Games’ and ‘400 Blows’. Like these all time classics, it shares what all great films have in common: a sense of beauty, a sense of truth and a strong connection, like an umbilical cord, with real life. 

The Kurds are considered the largest ethnic group in the world, without an own state. There are about 20 million Kurds who mostly live in an area known as Kurdistan, which encompasses Turkey (10 million), Iran (6m.), Iraq (4m.) and Syria (1 million). Hundreds of thousands of Kurds are living in Diaspora in Europe and the USA.They descend from Indo-European tribes, who origins date back from 600 B.C. 

The intriguing title of the film comes from the fact that the smugglers add vodka to the horses drinking water, to intoxicate them so they don’t feel the fatigue when they carry their heavy loads over the mountains in extremely cold weather.

Bahman Ghobadi, whose parent split up when he was eleven, was forced to start working to provide himself and his family. In 1993 he studied film making in Tehran, but soon abandoned- formal training to work as assistant director for among others Abbas Kiarostami. Between 1995 and 2000 he made nine short films. His best known one is ‘Life in Fog’ on which ‘A Time For Drunken Horses’ is based.

Ghobadi’s next film will be shot this winter in Iraq’s Kurdistan and will focus on Kurdish music. The American film-critic Bob Campbell said in Newhouse News: “Exhale the traces of Hollywood smog and brace for the shockingly pure air of A Time for Drunken Horses.