Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two-Legged Horse (Samira Makhmalbaf, 2008)

Like a fable told in documentary form, Samira Makhmalbaf’s outraged – and outrageous – Two-Legged Horse is sure to exasperate many western audiences, who won’t be used to seeing such images of abject poverty and abuse. Set in Afghanistan, the film tells a simple, allegorical tale about a mentally handicapped boy who is hired as the professional piggybacker to a spoiled brat who had his feet blown off by a land mine. With no subplots and little else on its mind, the film focuses, perhaps exploitatively, on its two main characters, documenting their dysfunction as it spirals into a sado-masochistic, co-dependent nightmare

I’m not sure why Makhmalbaf chose to tell this particular story, but it transfixed me, in the same way that you can’t avert your eyes from a train wreck. The film is so blunt that it forces viewers to come to terms with it immediately. Its director uses forceful images of these two, especially as the legless boy whips his “horse”, ostensibly to create a message about power and poverty. It’s one-note, but at the same time kind of hypnotic, since so much of what it shows is taboo on American movie screens. Like some nightmare version of the Richard Pryor vehicle The Toy, it contains a traditional underdog setup, but refuses the audience the usual payoffs found in that genre.

Rating: 62/100


Anonymous said...

Why did you think the film was set in Iran? The film was set in Afghanistan and very clear about that setting and the war there. It was clearly not Iran in other ways as well, including dress.

Jeremy Heilman said...

It's called a typo. I write these capsule reviews in less than 20 minutes. Makhmalbaf is from Iran, which is probably why my mental signals got crossed.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was an interesting film but it really was a one trick pony (if you'll excuse the pun). There are only so many times you can keep making the same point before it gets too repetitive and therefore an ineffective tool.

Great cinematography and great acting, and a great premise for a short film maybe. As a 90 minute plus effort it came across as disjointed (especially in the scene where the 'horse' is taking part in a cruel sport, how can you make an allegorical film and then shoehorn a real life political/cultural point) and laboured.