*The film has been selected for the prestigious New Directors New Films series read more HERE
The relationship of humans with domesticated animals is a strange balance between an authoritative search for practical benefits (what can the animal provide
that is of use) and endearing companionship. Owner and beast share a bond that is based upon the creature’s need to be taken care of in order for it to serve its
purpose. Out of all the animals which have enabled mankind to thrive, horses have been the most appreciated since ancient times as means of transportation and as accessories for war. Icelandic actor-turned-writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson knows this all too
well, but decided to approach the peculiar relationship with humor in his visually luscious, utterly original tragicomedy accordingly titled Of Horses and Men.
Pompous and showy, Kolbeinn (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), a middle-aged man, strolls down the plains of his tight-knit valley community on his beautiful white mare which is his pride
and joy. One morning, as he visits his unspoken love interest Solveg (Charlotte Bøving), also a horse owner like everyone in these parts, her raging stallion can’t resist
the urge to violate the honor of his beloved mare. Unable to stop this from happening, and evidently furious, Kolbeinn puts her to sleep as the only way to
preserve her honor. And so the string of misfortunes begins to unfold starting with Solveg’s decision to neuter her dark horse to atone for his offense. Surrounding the quiet romance between the pair, an assortment of characters displays other idiosyncratic connections with the
four-legged beauties. Thus the individual relationships and their often tragic outcomes construct a clear image of the pivotal place these animals occupy.
A stranger in a strange land, Latin American tourist Juan (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) falls for strong-willed tough girl Johanna (Sigríður María Egilsdóttir), who shatters the idea of female weakness by excelling
at horse wrangling. Following his desired conquest and inept at horseback riding, Juan gets lost in the middle of a snowstorm, an event that tests his
survival skills, and which, in a dramatically poetic manner, brings him closer with the animal. Likewise, other residents meet their fates via their
mishaps involving the area’s dearest critters. Said incidents include a local feud over a fence, which blocks the main road through the town, an event which evolves
into a chase ending in a calamitous death and an injured fellow. Another such incident involves the gratuitous death of another rural dweller caused by his voracious thirst for
foreign strong liquor.
Dryly comedic throughout, the film is also charged with evocative imagery that humanizes the horses presenting them as spectators to the barbaric behavior
of men. Seen through the equines’ eyes, the animalistic qualities in people are vividly present in all aspects of life. Fighting for turf, giving in to
sexual urges, and stopping at nothing to stand out as the best of the pack, all are innate features of most living things. Without uttering a single word, their
penetrating gaze can be interpreted as contempt, sympathy, disbelief, or perhaps a hint of condescension as they witness the chaos people bring
upon themselves. Greatly compatible with each other, the ensemble cast — both human and equestrian — convincingly brings to life a very unusual universe.
Debutant feature director Benedikt Erlingsson takes advantage of the mesmerizing landscapes of the Icelandic countryside in a film that is as visually
rewarding as it is subtly witty. Of Horses and Men is a compacted festive triumph, which for all its calamities, is unexpectedly insightful
about the human condition. In a particular scene, the entire town comes together to see the latest batch of specimens up for grabs. They mingle while
walking in between dozens of horses, mixing in with them in a parade of extraordinarily similar beings. Erlingsson’s film questions, in an ingenious and cleverly
funny fashion, how civilized or how primitive man’s functioning society really is.