Bleak portrait of the life of ethnic Kurds living on the border between Iran and Iraq, focusing on a cluster of newly-orphaned children who try to survive a harsh, snowy winter on their own. Their only potential for income comes from smuggling goods across the border, and the risk of being shot in an ambush is high.
As an added strain, one of the siblings, Madi, is suffering from a debilitating disease that has stunted both his physical and mental growth at infancy (though he is reportedly 15 years old - the oldest in the family). Despite Madi's constant demands, and the doctors' repeated warnings that he has mere months to live, his brothers and sisters are willing to sacrifice everything to keep him alive, without complaint.
Though Ghobadi forces his characters to endure relentlessly harsh conditions, endure they do, and what the viewer is left with is not only a troubling look at an enormously disadvantaged culture (which was first-time director Ghobadi's stated goal of the film) but an oddly reassuring testament to the strength of family ties and unconditional love.
The title, by the way, refers to the Kurds' habit of giving their mules alcohol to keep them warm during the long winter hikes across the unforgiving snows of the mountains.