Thursday, January 02, 2014

PSIFF ’14: Of Horses and Men

This is not a film for little girls who love horses.  Not every equine creature will live to see the final credits, but at least some will share some hanky panky along the way.  Still, the emphasis is on eccentricity rather than zoology when writer-director Benedikt Erlingsson explores the relationship between man and beast in Of Horses and Men (trailer here), Iceland’s official foreign language Academy submission, which screens during the 2014 Palms Springs International Film Festival.

Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors.”  Well, the barbed wire fences in this Icelandic highland village are quite flimsy.  Stately bachelor Kolbeinn is quite the sight on his white mare, or at least single mother Solveig thinks so.  Unfortunately, one of her stallions crashes the party (see one-sheet for details).  To make matters worse, as various men of the village start dying in sundry cinematic ways, the new widows become rivals for Solveig.

Much to everyone’s surprise, young Swedish rancher Johanna proves to be quite the handler of wild horses, catching the eye of Spanish tourist Juan Camillo.  Determined to make a connection, he signs up for an intensive horseback riding tour.  It ends badly. Remember The Empire Strikes Back? You will during his excursion.

That might sound like a fair amount of plot, but its really not.  Erlingsson is sparing in his use of dialogue, relying more on telling looks.  This is a quiet film, but miscommunication often plays a pivotal role.  It looks incredible though.  Erlingsson and cinematographer Bergsteinn Bjoergulfsson work the coastal vistas for all they are worth. Viewers can easily understand how such a craggy environment would produce these rugged, taciturn characters.

Despite their Scandinavian Calvinist reserve, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson and Charlotte Boving have some nice chemistry as Kolbeinn and Solveig, respectively. The entire ensemble feels right in their roles, convincingly looking like an uncomfortably tight knit community. Of course, Sigridur Maria Egilsdottir stands out in a good way, as the dynamic Johanna.

For a (sort of) rom-com, Horses boasts a seriously impressive body count.  Despite its easy going vibe, it is definitely not for younger viewers. Its blend of quiet meditation and macabre humor was obviously not to the Academy’s tastes either, considering it did not make the cut for the nine film short list, but it is quite distinctive. Recommended for those who like striking scenery and a dose of fatalism in their movie romances, Of Horses and Men screens this coming Wednesday (1/8), Thursday (1/9), and the following Saturday (1/11) as part of the 2014 PSIFF.