Bahman Ghobadi | A Time for Drunken Horses

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Bahman Ghobadi

A Time for Drunken Horses

A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) is the first feature film of Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi. Ghobadi is a member of the Kurds, a large ethnic group that lives in several Middle Eastern countries. The US has had to enforce a no-fly zone in Northern Iraq, to keep Saddam Hussein from bombing the Kurds. A Time for Drunken Horses is reportedly the first Iranian film to be shot largely in the Kurdish language.

A Time for Drunken Horses is an excellent movie. It shows the lives and titanic struggles of a family of desperately poor Kurdish orphans, who work as child laborers to survive. While the film is grim, it is definitely gripping throughout. Also, the characters are idealistic. They are constantly trying to make the best of what they have - which is not much. But the film shows little of the self-pity and angst that seems to be washing through big budget Hollywood thrillers, such as David Fincher's atrocious Se7en (1995). While Fincher shows people weeping and wailing about phony problems, A Time for Drunken Horses shows people trying to cope intelligently and straightforwardly with real problems. Watching these admirably gutsy characters is not depressing. Instead, the film implicitly suggests that the viewer should do practical things to help. I can think of two things: people can give money to charities that help poor people in the Third World. And they can strongly encourage their governments to step up their contributions to world health and development. The response of my own country, the United States, has so far been dreadful. We are the richest country in the history of the world, but we do little to contribute money to the poor. Just a small increase of US aid could go far towards wiping out hunger and AIDS in Africa, for instance. We can and should be doing much, much more.

A Time for Drunken Horses shows the devastation that land mines bring to poor countries around the globe. Land mines are one of the world's worst problems. I do not see how any civilized person could watch this film, or Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar (2001) in which the consequences of land mines are also shown, and not try to support the treaty to ban land mines. This is a treaty that the United States should sign immediately.


Like many other Iranian films, A Time for Drunken Horses is influenced by Italian Neorealism. Like the Neorealists before them, this film uses non-professional, amateur actors, is shot on real locations, and deals with pressing problems of poor people. A Time for Drunken Horses also shows some of the specifically Iranian developments of this approach, such as an emphasis on children, and the use of question and answer dialogue scenes, one of which is heard under the opening credits of A Time for Drunken Horses.