Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rural Route: The Horseman

There is a reason Sweden has never been known as the world’s breadbasket. The land is rugged and the weather can be harsh. At least it is around Stig-Anders’ farm in the Scandinavian country’s rocky, forested Småland region. His is a hardscrabble life, but it holds a certain austerely poetic quality, as captured in Peter Gerdehag and Tell Johansson’s documentary, The Horseman (Hästmannen, trailer here), screening tomorrow at Scandinavia House, in conjunction with the Rural Route Film Festival.

A man of nature and tradition, Stig-Anders does things the hard way. Eschewing tractors because they compress the soil, he uses horses to work his fields, just as his father did before him. However, as the sole hand on his ramshackle farm, the taciturn farmer’s strength is starting to fail him. Attempting to save his livestock during a severe blizzard, Stig-Anders is hobbled with severe frostbite. With his way of life in doubt, Madelene, an old friend, steps in to help the demoralized horseman return to his farm. Although appearing fearsome and anti-social to outsiders, Stig-Anders is a gentle soul, who easily stirs the audience’s sympathy during his plight.

Horseman is a quiet, deliberate film. Gerdehag and Johansson’s camera lovingly lingers on Stig-Anders as he tills his fields and clears brush in the nearby woods. His isolated corner of the world is truly far-removed from the clamor of campaigns, media, blogging, and the rest of the noise from the hyperkinetic global culture. There is something quite engrossing about his ascetic life. How quickly you snap out of it after the screening depends on the degree to which a life of such simplicity enforced by nature’s capriciousness resonates within you.

Horseman is a discreet film that treats its subject with dignity and compassion, but it requires no small measure of patience as it slowly runs its course. However, there is probably no more fitting film for a festival dedicated to rural Scandinavia. It screens tomorrow and Saturday at Scandinavia House.