A Time for Drunken Horses Review
The winter has been extremely harsh in Kurdistan and the local population, disliked on both sides of the Iran/Iraq border, try their best to survive - with the local economy in a dire state, there's not many sources of legal income. Children have no choice but to grow up incredibly fast in order to survive - "Life is making me wander, bringing me close to death" sings one child as Yahoub clings to Madhi, his brother, trying to keep him warm. At only 12, Yahoub is having to do his best to keep his small family alive since the passing away of both their parents. To make things worse, the local doctor has informed him that Madhi, afflicted with a growth illness, needs an expensive operation that they can't afford. Options are few but Yahoub knows he has to do all within in his power to scrape some money together for the operation...
Using local children as leads (the on-screen family are a family off-screen), the acting from the children is spot on - they all manage to convincingly portray the coming adulthood being forced upon them. Like many Iranian films, the Western audience may find it the experience to be slightly alienating given the harshness of the world described but what the director wants to elicit in us is not pity but rather attempt to engage us with the world in which they live.
Though the film occasionally betrays the director's lack of experience, it is a very moving début by the Kurdish director; the portrayal of human society is sharp and quite unforgiving - the sole characters of importance in the film are the children with every single adult turning out to be untrustworthy. The drunken horses, given alcohol to numb the pain of the cold, come to symbolise the very same humanity which has lost their sense of empathy and compassion... Though the plot often becomes secondary, the narrative arc remains strong enough in this case to keep the audience interested in the unfolding of the story and sympathising with the characters. Globally, the film manages to triumph over all its intrinsic faults making Ghobadi a director to watch...
The image:Generally speaking this is a good transfer with the occasional amount of speckling but not much else to complain about. Due to the almost constant presence of snow throughout the movie, the colours in those scenes tend to looks slightly washed out but generally the colours hold quite well despite this. There is little artifacating to be seen, making this a solid transfer. The use of an anamorphic transfer is also appreciated despite the film being only in 1.66:1.
The Sound:The original stereo mix is kept though it tends to come through as mostly mono in most scenes. The dialogue is clearly audible in all scenes and no crackle or hiss affects the overall quality.
The Subtitles:The subtitles are all grammatically correct but tend to be rather too sparse for my liking. Some scenes could have done with being subtitled in better detail as you have to guess at times what's being said.
The Menus:We get the usual sober and effective MK2 menus - though no English version is offered, it shouldn't be too difficult for an English speaker to find their way about.
The Extras:None of the extras are subtitled in English
We get three analytical extras: a short Introduction by Mahmoud Chokrollahi (2 mins), an interview with Nader Takmil Homayoun (a film critic and director) who tells us about the critical reception of the film in Iran and abroad (13 mins) and Stéphane Goudet talks about the historical and political background of the film (12 mins) - all of these contain mild to major spoilers so are best watched only after the film. Given the slightly alien nature of the film to most viewers, these extras manage to explain to the Western viewers most of the background information that would have been evident to the filmmaker's primary audience but keep to the essential.
We also get three short films: the first, Life in the fog (28 mins) was a first attempt at telling the film's story with the same children. The French subtitles are transferred along with the image which is given a 4:3 transfer. The image quality isn't great as the original material was video but it's absolutely watchable...
There two other short films (Born to be a soldier (29 mins) & One hot afternoon (11 mins) ) are by two different Iranian directors. The latter is devoid of dialogue so it worth a watch though the former is subtitled in French. The transfers are quite acceptable and, given the source materials, pretty good.
Conclusions:MK2 proves once again it's second to none when putting together very good DVDs of relatively obscure films. Despite a minor quibble with the subs, this is a very good release with perfectly thought out extras (which do however require French) which can only be thoroughly recommended.