Starring: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Charlotte Bøving, Helgi Björnsson
Genre: Comedy/ Drama/ World Cinema
The inhabitants of a very rural part of Iceland all rely on their horses and have very close relationships with them, with both human and horse seeming to share many characteristics with each other. The everyday lives of the residents and their horses intertwine with each other, often with bizarre, tragic or hilarious results, even sometimes all three at once.
Though it may not sound like the most thrilling premise, Benedikt Erlingsson’s feature debut is an extremely watchable and darkly comic series of six or so vignettes featuring the bizarre characters of a remote area of Iceland. Told intentionally from the horse’s point of view, in which each story begins with a close up shot of the horse’s eyes as it looks at its owner. Though perhaps it is a very culturally specific setting, the stories themselves examine very universal themes; from a wealthy man showing off to the local village his beautiful horse with which he hopes to impress the woman he fancies, to a man who will stop at nothing to get some vodka, to a man who makes sure on stopping a local farmer from fencing off public rights of way.
Though these stories are most certainly quirky, they are all told with a very darkly comic tone. Indeed, if you are looking for a light-hearted film, then Of Horses and Men most definitely is not that, as it is often quite unashamedly cold in tone and not afraid to have sudden narrative developments that are very dark. These sudden shifts in tone are often quite a shock, especially in the almost causal way they are incorporated into the narrative(s), but it is this uncompromising and in some ways culturally specific nature of Erlingsson’s storytelling that makes Of Horses and Men such a treat to watch.
Erlingsson certainly is very much in control of his film; we are given very little explanation of who the characters are, but their little quirks and the great performances certainly make them engaging. Of Horse and Men does not even attempt to follow the storytelling conventions of more commercial films. Very little happens in these character’s lives and so it is things like farmers fencing off footpaths or a need for vodka, even if it means getting your horse to swim to the boat selling it, that are what dominates their (and therefore their faithful horses) lives.
Of Horses and Men is not only a unique viewing experience, but it is made with obvious passion as the entire cast and crew are all horse lovers, and it is partly this passion that makes the film such a really watchable and engaging experience, despite its dark sense of humour that admittedly may not appeal to all.
From a visual point of view, Of Horses and Men is wonderfully put together, with the camera capturing the beautiful scenery with so many great widescreen long distance shots that are only enhanced by Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson’s cinematography of pale greens and greys. What Erlingsson captures perfectly is that despite the beauty of the surrounding landscape, it can also be uncompromisingly dangerous; whether that can be the sheer geography of the land or the remoteness compared to the unforgiving climate that can turn in an instant. In one tale there is a wonderful and quite emotionally stirring image of one character having to sacrifice his horse in order for him to survive.
Further proof that cinema from other countries can be engaging as both a narrative story and an intriguing exploration of a different culture; Of Horses and Men is both a wonderfully made and told story. Its unique sense of humour and depiction of tragedy may leave some out in the cold, but its unashamedly unique approach to storytelling makes it one of the cinematic gems of 2014.