Of Horses and Men
A series of Icelandic vignettes successfully portraying the interweaving lives of horses and humans
In a succession of vignettes, this Icelandic feature depicts various interactions between horses and humans that highlight both the symbiosis and the separation between human and animal lives. The Icelandic title translates literally as ‘The Horse in Us’. Against bleak volcanic farmland and unforgiving seas, encounters with beasts throw off human plans in a variety of bawdy, bloody and even deadly ways; and a small community is shown to progress and falter as much via the vagaries of horse behaviour as through human trial and error. Even a tentative romantic approach is scuppered when two nearby quadropeds adopt a more direct approach to coupling.
There aren’t that many films that successfully deploy animals as characters – shooting with animals is a costly nightmare, plus they don’t tend to care about telling us stories, so they don’t go in much for acting. But one of the pleasures of this film is the extent to which the horses really do feel like part of the narrative. Director Benedikt Erlingsson, along with a skilled and evidently very patient cinematographer, Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson, has shot them with attention not only to their grace and beauty, but to their personalities and individual mannerisms. The human characters, in fact, feel a little cartoonish by comparison; this is a film that deals in eccentric storybook extremes, rather than nuances of behaviour, and its structure of separate stories strung together means that we never get terribly close to the people or the content. The stories are small and whimsical, the human performances big and simplistic, and in the almost total absence of dialogue, an irritatingly bouncy score jollies the whole thing along rather too forcefully. But the film’s proximity to its animal cast, its lovely images and its unpredictable extremes of light and dark do make for a pleasingly original experience.