Love, sex, and horses take center stage in Benedikt Erlingsson’s equine-accented debut, Of Horses and Men (Hross i Oss), which took the Best New Director award at 2013’s San Sebastian International Film Festival, along with several Audience Awards for Best Film the following year—at CPH PIX, Goteborg, and Tromso International.
Set in a bleak yet breathtaking Icelandic community where everyone works to know everyone else’s business (binoculars are clearly a big seller down at the General Store), the film is lovely to look at, from the wide-angled beauty of its staggering scenery to the comely close-ups of its four-legged stars—coats, eyes, and lashes are all brought into intimate focus by Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson’s camera, while David Thor Jonsson’s score clops along in tandem with the horses’ strange and unique gaits.
Of Horses and Men is comprised of several loosely-connected vignettes, often with unexpected outcomes: a man’s prized mare is compromised by a randy stallion; a vodka lover’s chase after a departing boat becomes his undoing; two men feud over natural boundaries; a young wrangler proves her mettle by solely rounding up a team of wild horses; lost in a blizzard, a tourist is forced to take drastic action. While Erlingsson skillfully juggles humor along with sequences of a more unsettling nature, some of the characters’ motivations are a little tricky to grasp—perhaps you have to be Icelandic to fully appreciate the director’s intent; those in Peoria, I daresay, will have no chance.
But despite this cultural aloofness, as prevalent as the barren landscapes and the raging hormones, this unusually frank film mostly pleases through the passion of its performers, hoofed or otherwise.
The end credits make a particular point of stating that no horses were harmed during the making of the film lest viewers come away feeling a little uneasy after some of the tragic denouements depicted. There’s no such disclaimer about the fates of its human players, mind.
(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth