Palm Springs International Film Festival 2014
By Don Simpson | January 7, 2014
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Writer: Benedikt Erlingsson
Starring: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Charlotte Bøving, Helgi Björnsson, Sigríður María Egilsdóttir, Maria Ellingsen, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Erlingur Gíslason, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Steinn Ármann Magnússon, Kjartan Ragnarsson, Atli Rafn Sigurðsson
An Icelandic saga of sorts, Benedikt Erlingsson’s Of Horses and Men is structured as a series of loosely intertwining parables about horses and the rural community whose lives revolve around them. These stories seem like they probably might have possessed some greater moral purpose at one time, but the points have since worn away with the passage of time; the tall tales have grown so exaggerated and romanticized, they hardly seem to be rooted in truth at this point. But I don’t know, maybe a rider really has found themselves practically sandwiched between a horny stallion and a mare in heat and lived to tell the embarrassing story, regardless it certainly makes for entertaining cinema. Equally absurd is a drunkard who rides a horse out to sea to purchase two jugs of a potent elixir from a passing ship, or a novice rider who is forced to recreate the Luke Skywalker tauntaun scene in order to survive a frigid night. While each vignette of this visually poetic film seems like it could be a part of a grand absurdist farce, the tone is so subtle that the comedy quickly mutates into stoic seriousness, especially when told against the dramatic natural environments of Iceland that are captured with such astoundingly magnificent cinematography (Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson).
Juxtaposed with the beauty and power of the horses, the townspeople mostly seem to be idiotic mortals who repeatedly fall prey to desire, greed and anger. The horses closely observe the tomfoolery of the humans and even though their judgments (or, lack thereof) remain unknown, Erlingsson seems to be telling the sprawling narrative from their perspective. Unfortunately, the horses must sometimes shoulder the punishment for human stupidity, making Of Horses and Men an occasionally difficult film to stomach (thought it is important to note that no horses were hurt during the making of this film).