I’ve already seen, Marooned in Iraq one of Bahman Ghobadi’s films. After seeing it, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say about the film. I initially felt much the same way about A Time for Drunken Horses and that’s when it struck me that what both films share in common is that they are completely inert. Stripped of story and tone, both films are blandly shot and edited.
In any given shot in A Time for Drunken Horses, the composition, angle of shot and movement within the frame is presented in such a dry, lifeless way. Subjects are often plopped in the middle of a frame. From time to time, there will be a shot with some interesting composition, but it almost seems inadvertent, as if the tree just happened to be in the way and not because it was deliberately framed.
Scenes are edited in an unusual manner. There are moments where the scene will be building a sequence of actions and a shot that should follow doesn’t exist, meaning there’s a weird jump in continuity. It’s almost as if the footage was either never shot or got lost in the editing room. The result is that some sequences end up dissipating any tension through an odd, jerky rhythm.
The story is about a family of children whose father smuggles good into Iran. While their father is away, they try their best to pick up jobs. Their brother, Madi (Madi Ekhtiar-dini), suffers from a horrible disease and lives as a cripple. As problems begin to pile, Ayoub (Ayoub Ahmadi) is forced to start smuggling as well in order to make enough money to get Madi the operation he needs to live.
The presentation of a crippled child and the rough conditions he must live in invite us to sympathize with him. However, the film-work is so bland, so detached, that it works against any sympathy for Madi, creating this strange distance. Unlike other Iranian film about children in plights, such as The White Balloon or Where is the Friend’s Home?, this film presents a situation far worse, but evokes far less feeling or sympathy for the child’s circumstances.
A Time for Drunken Horses is a reminder that a powerful story of adversity must be met with a style suited to it. To present it as bland, as dry, and as uncreative as this film does is to animate a skeleton instead of breathing life into flesh and blood people. The camera is not a passive observer. It participates. In this instance, it’s participation is an aloof disinterest that cripples the film.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing