Hot Docs

5 Dreamers and a Horse: Hoping Against Hope

Hot Docs 2022

4 mins read

5 Dreamers and a Horse
(Armenia, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, 2022)
Dir. Vahagn Khachatryan, Aren Malakyan
Programme: International Spectrum (International Premiere)


5 Dreamers and a Horse vividly captures the tenacity of the human spirit. This debut feature is an enchanting observational documentary that teems with quirky commentary about its subjects. The film lovingly celebrates the need for a fantasy life, however tenuous one’s aspirations may be.

This documentary’s poetic prelude sets the tone to allow for more of a dream state within which these fragments of reality can unfold. 5 Dreamers and a Horse opens with a profound declaration: God may have created this imperfect world for humans, but humans imagined God into existence.

Coming from a background in the short film form, directors Vahagn Khachatryan and Aren Malakyan structure 5 Dreamers and a Horse like a group of smaller docs that intersect and entwine. The connections are not always obvious but that is in the film’s favour. The mythic tone suggested by its opening sequence remains the film’s primary driving force.

On screen, there are actually four subjects in 5 Dreamers and a Horse. The film follows a farmer, Karen, travelling the countryside in search of his ideal bride. The realism showcased in these treks is interrupted by more romanticized moments as he rides his horse in a vast landscape, lost in his thoughts and pondering his quest. Two young women, Amasia and Sona, seek sanctuary on a rooftop, a private universe where it is always dusk and the bigots below cannot disturb their relationship or invade their dreams for a better society. Melania, an elderly elevator operator, literally encased in her workplace, is captivated by space travel, and fantasizes about being an astronaut.

Karen’s horse is more of an allegorical symbol while the identity of the fifth person is revealed in a striking final nod. These more elusive inhabitants imbue the film with its spiritual core. In this way, the documentary manages to mingle moments of grace and humanity in amongst some of the harsher realities faced by these individuals.

What makes 5 Dreamers and a Horse so powerful is a self-conscious, inventive shooting style that invigorates its invitingly languid pace. Malakyan and Khachatryan skillfully maintain an overriding immersive quality while providing each portrait with its own visual strategy.

As challenging as their situations may be, the film perfectly communicates a sense of the intangible but vital forces that keep people going. This immersive experience resounds with compassion and presents the urge to dream as one that is intrinsic to life.

With its keen observational style, 5 Dreamers and a Horse is a lyrical vision of the deep-seated need for hope, for something aspirational. The film does not pretend to have any answers – it is intended as a slice of life. What 5 Dreamers and a Horse does do is show that life goes on. Things don’t always go as desired, reality always creeps in, but collectively, this urge, to keep dreaming, to fight against despair, remains steadfast and triumphant.

5 Dreamers and a Horse premieres at Hot Docs on May 2.

Barbara is co-host/co-producer of Frameline who joined during its CKLN days. As a freelance writer and film critic for the past 30 years, she has contributed to numerous dailies and magazines including The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Film Encyclopedia, Box Office Magazine as well as to several books. A veteran of the Canadian film industry, Barbara has worked in many key areas including distribution and programming, and has also served on various festival juries

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