The line between dramatizing physical abuse and causinggenuine physical harm to actors looks to have been crossed in Samira Makhmalbaf’s repellent “Two-Legged Horse.” Written by Makhmalbaf’s filmmaker father, Mohsen, as a blunt fable on the potential for humans to treat others like animals — specifically, how a one-legged boy turns an older boy into a beast of burden — the resulting film is designed to provoke outrage. But the anger is likely to be directed at Makhmalbaf herself rather than at her subject, totalitarianism. Pic will raise festival howls and walkouts, with distribs certain to consider it untouchable.
In a desperately poor Afghan town, young, speech-impaired Mirvais (Ziya Mirza Mohamad) sparks to the offer of a dollar per day to carry a little boy (Haron Ahad), maimed by a land mine, on his back to school. The boy grows to enjoy his dominance of Mirvais too much, though, and begins treating him like a horse. Mohamad’s extreme physical pain in the role is unbearable to watch, while unusually ugly lensing (for Makhmalbaf) and choppy editing make the watching all the more painful.