In the decade since Iran’s first Kurdish director, Bahman Ghobadi, released his debut feature A Time for Drunken Horses to international acclaim, he has established himself as the preeminent filmmaker of the new generation of Iranian filmmakers. More than ten years since he shared the Camera d’Or (awarded to best first feature) with fellow Iranian filmmaker Hassan Yektapanah’s Djomeh at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, A Time for Drunken Horses debuts on DVD in the U.S.
Set in a mountain village in Kurdish Iran (the very village where Ghobadi was born, it turns out), near the border of Iraq, the drama follows the harrowing existence of the villagers–and a family of orphaned children in particular–carving out a subsistence living smuggling goods over the border. It’s not simply back-breaking, spirit-crushing work; they face the threat of death from mines and thieves, or confiscation of goods by the government forces. The film’s title refers to the overworked pack animals, which are plied with vodka to keep them going through the cold (the snow drifts at times come to knees of the horses) and hardships. The humans themselves are beasts of burden in their own right, but without the numbing effects of alcohol. That Ghobadi focuses on the ordeal of a 12-year-old boy who signs on as an apprentice to the veteran smugglers makes the experience all the more dire.