One way of understanding the appeal of cinema lies in the ability of films to take us somewhere new and surprising. The experience of seeing how people live in place vastly different from our own can entertain us and perhaps even help us realise how comfortable or naive we are in our fixed view of the world.
Of Horses And Men is one of those films that takes us somewhere different; in this case to a small village in the sparsely populated hills of Iceland and introduces us to the people and horses who call this place home. Once there we experience a series of quick and breathtaking little stories, thinly connected by a simple narrative, that gives rise to one of the boldest and most comically outrageous films of the year.
This is first film from former actor Benedikt Erlingsson and he clearly shows a remarkable sensibility for locating human comedy within the vast, expansive landscape of Iceland.
Erlingsson is aided by some excellent cinematography from Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson who captures not just the beauty of the Icelandic countryside (a magnetic destination for landscape photographers the world over) but also the natural poise, grace and personality of the horses. One particularly effective device is the extreme close up of horses eyes, which introduces each scene and lets us see the world from the horses’ perspective.
Accompanying the visuals is an excellent score from David Thor Jonsson, which combines traditional, folk and scared choral music with the musical cues often pulling us across the edit from one scene to another with either comic or dramatic effect.
And, it’s all funny, really funny. Of Horses And Men’s humour is a bleak, dark kind of rural farce. One can image these as the sorts of stories country folk would tell over a few drinks on a cold winter’s night, the sort of tall tales that get exaggerated and elaborated upon over time till they acquire a delicate absurdity all their own.
Or, to put it another way, I haven’t laughed this loud and this often in years!
From the opening sequence, with the proud Kolbeinn (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) striding across the countryside on a freshly tamed mare to the amusement of his fellow villagers, to the Quixotic adventure of Juan (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) the folly of human pride dies and is reborn in a memorable, staggering and very funny way.
In a brief 81 minutes, Of Horses And Men takes us to a another world, while showing us scenes of such extraordinary beauty and outrageous comedy that we are left holding our breath wishing there was more. This is a film that deserves to play on screens and festivals all the way to the next award season.