Friday, August 07, 2020

Out Stealing Horses

Norway and Sweden have a close but complicated relationship, as Trond Sander’s family perfectly illustrates. He now lives in a remote cabin in Sweden, but in some ways, he never left the northern Norwegian logging country where he spent a formative summer in his early teens. Grieving a recent loss, Sander looks back on his last summer with his father in Hans Petter Moland’s adaptation of Per Petterson’s novel, Out Stealing Horses, which releases today on demand and in limited theaters.

After the death of his beloved wife, late-middle-aged Sander moved to rural Sweden (just before Y2K), where his thoughts often turn to his father. He was a manly, taciturn man, who spent long stretches away from his family. Back in 1948, his son assumes it was due to curmudgeonly chauvinism, but he will come to doubt that conclusion during the course of the summer.

The drama starts for Sander on the morning he and his friend Jon Haug go “out stealing horses.” By that, they mean joy-riding wild horses they corral in the woods. Unbeknownst to Sander, Haug is in a dark mood, because of a recent family tragedy. Sander is not particularly sensitive, but he still notices how the unfortunate events expose fissures in the Haug family that also seem to involve his father. Yes, Sweden will also factor into the events that unfold.

Out Stealing is set during the immediate post-war era, it rather logically follows that the Sanders and Haugs are still carrying baggage from the occupation. Yet, it is a relatively minor, but important element, in Sander’s coming of age story. There is a whirlwind of love unrequited, love not-so-secretly requited, simmering jealousy, and bitter regret swirling about him. We can certainly understand why this summer interlude had such a profound psychological impact on him. However, the 1999 sequences are not merely tacked on buffers, but actually hold quite a bit of significance of their own.

is unlike Moland’s last few films, the thrillers Department Q: Conspiracy of Faith, In Order of Disappearance, and its American remake, but each title demonstrates an empathic affinity for tormented protagonists. Even though he has much less screen-time as the older, crustier Sander, Stellan Skarsgård still puts an indelible stamp on the film. We are always conscious we are watching the flashbacks through his subjective memory. Poor Jon Ranes looks overwhelmed most of the time as fifteen-year-old Sander, as he is supposed to be. Indeed, Tobias Santlemann casts along shadow over the film, as Sander’s father. He is not particularly imposing in size, but he has a powerful presence.

As an added bonus,
OSH probably has enough extreme logging to fill an episode of a Discovery Channel show. The great Norwegian outdoors is definitely an attraction here—and cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk’s lenses makes it look fresh and mysterious. This is a very personal story, but it is told in a sweeping fashion. Recommended for fans of Petteron’s bestselling source novel, Out Stealing Horses opens today (8/7) on VOD (and to a limited extent in old-fashioned theaters with chairs and arm-rests).