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Teenagers Ameneh (Ameneh Ekhtiar-Dini) and Ayoub (Ayoub Ahmadi), are poverty-stricken Kurdish Iranians who are responsible for their brother Madi (Mehdi Ekhtiar-Dini), a dwarf requiring surgery if he is to survive. Separated from their father, the children's only means of survival is to join the trade smuggling truck tyres into Iraq by mule.

The argument for Iranian cinema producing the most powerful humanist statements anywhere in the world grows stronger with the release of A Time For Drunken Horses. Winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes last year, Bahman Gobadi's first feature is a beautifully told plea for the rights of minorities everywhere. There are 20 million Kurds living in frequently impossible conditions in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Their spirit and suffering is unforgettably humanised in the faces of Ameneh, Ayoub and Madi whose desperate existence drives them from the comparative ease of wrapping glasses for export into sub-zero conditions smuggling tyres by mule into Iraq through bandit infested mountains. Dialogue is appropriately minimal. All that matters is getting enough to eat and medicine to keep Madi alive – there is little or no other reason to speak. It's hard to imagine why a people leading such marginal, powerless lives could be perceived by anyone – Saddam Hussein included - as a threat, yet that is the plight of the Kurdish people whose political struggle is the potent undercurrent in the tale of these three children. It's Madi you'll never forget; his observant eyes and painfully twisted body will induce all but the most heartless to shed a tear and think about the people for whom injustice and oppression like this is a fact of everyday life.
Richard Kuipers

For many viewers and critics outside of Iran (myself included) Iranian cinema basically means the work of a couple of great directors – Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf – and their associates. But while the Kurdish director of this film, Bahman Ghobadi, has worked as an assistant to Kiarostami, he rightly says that his own films haven’t much to do with those of his mentor. Where Kiarostami’s films are notable above all for their deeply experimental approach to time, space and fictional narrative, Ghobadi’s aims and methods are decent but much more conventional. A Time For Drunken Horses is partly a slightly melodramatic story of a boy battling to help his brother, but perhaps more importantly a docudrama portrait of a Kurdish community in a desolate and wartorn environment. (The theme of child smugglers on the Iran-Iraq border also appeared in Samira Makhmalbaf's remarkable Blackboards, in which Ghobadi appeared as an actor.) The film is shot in the village where Ghobadi was born, and his focus is on the group as much as individuals; most of the film’s impact comes through simple observation of the snowy, rocky landscapes and the taken-for-granted customs, like the practice referred to in the title of doping mules with vodka to keep out the cold. Personally I always tend to be suspicious of humanist films about exotic folk cultures, but A Time For Drunken Horses feels more authentic than most in its use of amateur actors and its relatively loose form. Frequently the boundary between documentary and fiction is blurred, most obviously in the use of a genuinely disabled boy to play Ayoub’s brother Madi, aged fifteen but physically and mentally still a toddler. The oddest and most touching image is of this pocket-sized
human being enclosed in a yellow bundle and strapped to the side of a heavily-loaded mule, dangling above the snow like an afterthought at the end of a paragraph.
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Ayoub Ahmadi, Rojin Younessi, Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini, Madi Ekhtiar-dini

DIRECTOR: Bahman Ghobadi

PRODUCER: Bahman Ghobadi

SCRIPT: Bahman Ghobadi


EDITOR: Samad Tavazoee


MUSIC: Hossein Alizadeh

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 2, 2001 (Sydney; Melbourne – August 9)

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