The quietly uplifting story of one girl turning her life around, Monika Treut’s Of Girls And Horses is a slight but haunting tale of love in the slow lane.
Show Me Loveby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Germany’s answer to the New Queer Cinema of the Eighties, Monika Treut has once again returned to feature filmmaking after a long slew of documentaries. And while there’s a naturalistic edge to Of Girls And Horses, there’s also a haunting poetry in the film’s imagery that marks a comfortable homecoming, with beautiful close-ups of horses’ muzzles glimpsed in the dusky light of the Schleswig-Holstein coast close to the Danish border. And if the story is slight, it’s nevertheless a very atmospheric peek into the secret world Of Girls And Horses.
Sent away from home for making trouble, Alex (Ceci Schmitz-Chuh) is placed with a livery stables and riding school in North Germany. Here she’s taken into the care of Nina (Vanida Karun), the stables manager with a passion for horses and riding bareback and hands free. Unable to smoke inside, lie in or surf on her phone – due to the farm’s poor signal – Alex is forced to integrate, slowly won round by Nina’s gentle manner. Gradually, Nina shows Alex the ropes, and as her responsibilities grow, Alex starts to appreciate her new life on the land. And when Kathy (Alissa Wilms) arrives at the stables to spend two weeks riding on the Rickelsbüller Koog, her initial jealousy turns to friendship, as the two girls play in the mud together, get drunk together and even kiss. It’s the start of a beautiful relationship and when Kathy finds an internship for Alex at her local stables, it seems like Alex might just be turning her life around.
A quietly engaging history of female relationships, Of Girls And Horses explores the undercurrents between its four characters – Alex, Nina, Kathy and Nina’s girlfriend Christine – as they negotiate admiration, desire, jealousy and frustration. And yet despite the film’s delicate narrative trajectory, it’s not so much the destination as the journey that counts here, with set-pieces and one-off adventures providing the film’s emotional core, as the two girls get drunk and go chasing escaped horses or play in the thick mud of the saltmarsh. Perhaps the most haunting moment of all though comes in a brief conversation as Nina recounts the story of Eidum, a village off the coast now submerged underwater and whose church bell according to legend still occasionally rings. An eerie reminder perhaps of the enduring influence of those deep relationships that echo.
With great, naturalistic performances from its three leads – Ceci Schmitz-Chuh, Vanida Karun and Alissa Wilms – Monika Treut’s film is a delicate portrait of life on the up, as Alex goes from angry young teenager to a young woman with a job and a burgeoning romance. And if Of Girls And Horses doesn’t follow the highs and lows of traditional dramatic narrative, there’s nevertheless a kinetic momentum that slowly builds. Like bareback riding, it’s a sensual ride of energy and performance. And look, no hands.
Of Girls And Horses is released on 17th July 2015 in the UK