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Of Horses and Men | reviews, news & interviews

Of Horses and Men

Of Horses and Men

Darkly funny Icelandic consideration of the human-equine bond

In his finest clothes, Kolbeinn (Ingvar E. Sigurðsson) practices his come-hither look

Twelve minutes into the Icelandic film Of Horses and Men something occurs on screen which was obviously going to happen, but actually seeing it happen is astonishing. It’s something which would normally either occur off screen or be alluded to. Of Horses and Men has many such uncomfortable moments. It’s also funny, heart-warming and poignant – a one-off.

Of Horses and Men is set and filmed in rural Iceland. About the residents of a valley, their loves and their symbiotic relationship with their equine companions, it draws parallels between the behaviour of horse and human. What the animals do, the humans do too. The Icelandic title Hross í oss (Horse in Us) captures it better than the English-language retitling. The film is built around six interlinked episodes featuring the same characters and horses. It is not Black Beauty, National Velvet or The Horse Whisperer.

Of Horses and Men Kolbeinn - Ingvar E. SigurðssonInstead, it's an often painful dissection of human nature which takes in alcohol, death, frustration, repressed feelings, resentment and rivalry. It also captures stunning landscapes and is affectionate, compassionate and sensitive. The film’s humanist outlook is comparable to that of Roy Andersson’s You, the Living, although a dash of Petter Næss’s Elling bubbles up too.

The film centres on the stop-start relationship of Kolbeinn (Ingvar E. Sigurðsson) and Solveig (Charlotte Bøving). Bøving is a single mother, Sigurðsson a bachelor farmer. They live a short horse-ride apart and he dresses in his finest clothes to canter over to see her, showing off his newly tamed mare Grána (pictured above right). It’s an important event for the small community – binoculars are fixed to eyes, watching his progress. But it goes wrong.

A lot of things go wrong in Of Horses and Men. So much so that more than one burial takes place, of both human and horse. Death might be delivered in unpredictable ways, but it’s accepted with barely a word. Stoicism and reservation are necessary qualities.

Of Horses and Men Kolbeinn - Ingvar E. Sigurðsson  Solveig - Charlotte BøvingHumour though is rife. Not just in how the characters relate to each other and with the bizarre things happening to them, but also in how they see the world. “The blind leading the Swedish” is a great line which says far more than those five words about how the Scandinavian countries see each other. (Pictured left: Charlotte Bøving and Ingvar E. Sigurðsson cement their relationship with a drink)

This is Benedikt Erlingsson’s first full-length film as a director. He has worked as an actor, notably in Lars von Trier’s satire of the business world The Boss of it All, theatrical director and writer (he wrote Of Horses..., too). He’s said that “no horses were hurt in the making of this film. We might as well have been working with our children. However, there were some human actors that were traumatized during the shooting of the film.”

After seeing Of Horses and Men, it’s easy to understand how it has picked up awards on the festival circuit despite not making the cut for consideration as Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Oscars. See this finely-tuned gem. But prepare to be non-plussed.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for Of Horses and Men


Watch the trailer for Of Horses and Men

A lot of things go wrong in 'Of Horses and Men'. So much so that more than one burial takes place


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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