Benedikt Erlingsson’s Of Horses And Men is a beautifully interwoven series of dark and hilarious cautionary tales that will win you over at a canter.
Horseplay by Dave O’Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The Icelandic horse has a rich and varied genealogy which dates back to the arrival of Viking Age Scandinavians in 860 AD. Venerated by early Norse people as a symbol of fertility, horses were a prized possession of medieval Icelanders. While Benedikt Erlingsson’s film is set in contemporary Iceland, Of Horses And Men places these magnificent animals on a similarly revered footing in the heart of a small community. Each story carefully straddles the verge between whimsy and seriousness with aplomb, dipping in and out of each with consummate ease. It’s wicked and hilarious, and signifies a strong debut from writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson.
Set in a small community in Iceland, the film is split across five distinctly individual stories – each with a beginning and end – that seamlessly intertwine into the wider overarching sixth narrative of the community at large. Opening with a botched courtship between a middle-aged couple which runs concurrently with a less subtle one between their horses, next it slips into the story of a man in love with vodka and the loyal horse that enables him to his potential demise and then to a story about a feuding nature lover and land owner that culminates in a tractor chase.
Of Horses And Men is a refreshingly unique cinematic experience that is impossible to succinctly define. It features a perfect amalgam of sardonic humour, painfully accurate social commentary and emotional warmth. Each story seems to flow out of the casually observant horses that feature – extreme close-up shots frame their eyes in the screen as if to allude to the fact that they are the real storytellers here, or perhaps the mirror in which we experience the stories. The film has a particular fascination with the human compulsion for voyeurism – regardless of what inspires it. In the case of this small community, you sense that it’s predominantly stimulated by escaping the banality of an isolated existence.
While it’s abundantly clear that Erlingsson is a very talented director, it’s the humour and honesty of his script that sets the film apart. For the most part, the focus of the film is the intense relationship of horse to man and woman and community. In building upon this premise, Erlingsson has a natural ability to tell separate stories within a structure that facilitates an important interplay between the story of the community as well as particular individuals. Each story is sewn into the wider narrative with a community event, and it’s here that you are periodically introduced to the various interrelationships which add depth to the experience.
Further testament to the ability of Erlingsson as a filmmaker, is the casual wizardry he employs in the marriage of sight and sound. In the same way that the stories combine to form a cohesive and complete narrative, Of Horses And Men thrusts the awe-inspiring Icelandic landscape upon us, and clothes it in a multi-faceted array of sounds. One particular highlight is a striking shot of a prancing pony, proud owner atop, and the sound of synchronised sure-footed hooves to the chords of a pulsating Icelandic folk tune.
The stories in Of Horses And Men echo mythology, contemporary social values and sometimes come within a whisker of several of Aesop’s Fables. There is a deeper meaning to be gleaned from each of the stories and the end result is not only thought-provoking, but highly entertaining on a multitude of levels. On a purely superficial level, it’s probably one of those films that may not appeal to the cinema going public at large – and that’s a shame, because in a summer of blockbusters, it’s refreshingly original, entertaining and memorable.
Of Horses And Men is released on 13th June 2014 in the UK