They shoot horses don't they . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 04/11/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This remarkable film from the Iranian "new wave" mixes Sydney Pollack's dance marathon film "They Shoot Horses Don't They" (a clip of which is seen on a TV in a cafe) with a good deal of Fellini-esque imagery to produce a distinctly Iranian social critique. Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf retells a story from his youth in which a poor man raises money by riding a bicyle for days without a rest. In this film, made in 1987, the man is a poor, unemployed Afghan refugee with a hospitalized wife. Rescued by his young son from committing suicide by being run over by a truck, he allows himself to be billed as a one-man circus act, riding in a circle for a week while a crowd gathers, wagering on his ability to endure to the end.
At the start, the film cuts between a vigorous game of buzkashi, as horsemen compete over a headless goat, and a gathering of refugee day-laborers attempting to get work digging wells and ditches. A motorcyclist rides endless circles inside a big drum for paying customers who watch from above. There are shots of crowded Tehran streets, hospital visits to the cyclist's desperately ill wife, and the cycle-riding endurance test itself, all of it mixed together with moments of farce, documentary realism, hallucination, and heavy melodrama.
In several dream-like sequences, boys in prison garb throw red and white carnations from a balcony at the cyclist, a crowd of the elderly and dying and another crowd of shrouded lepers are brought to witness the spectacle. A gypsy woman tells fortunes, a referee watches in a track suit, and a doctor and nurse attempt to drug the cyclist, while tacks and nails mysteriously appear on the track. Meanwhile, the soaring music and the close-up shots of the exhausted cyclist bring to mind images of the Passion of Christ from any number of Hollywood biblical epics. Eventually, the media arrive with cameras and shouted questions to swarm around the cyclist like a pack of dogs.
This film is best seen along with Abbas Kiorstami's film "Close-Up" about a young man so taken by this film that he assumes for a while the identity of the director and winds up in a Tehran court charged with fraud. For anyone interested in Iranian cinema, a must-see.