Of Horses and Men – film review

Of Horses and Men is from Iceland and a marvel. It is clever, funny, shocking and lyrically absurdist, this tale of nag-nutty ranching folk pursuing, taming, riding and, if necessary, killing – but tenderly or as last resort – wild horses. Think of Arthur Miller/John Huston’s The Misfits. Add volcanic scenery and bleak comedy.

First-time filmmaker Benedikt Erlingsson presents the love of horses as a kind of inter-species romance. They are gorgeous, these wild animals with their sheeny flanks, large dark-rimmed eyes and luxuriant manes. The first story’s filly has big lashes and a Carol Channing fringe: no wonder she attracts a lustful stallion who breaks a fence to get at her. Her vain, priggish rider – who has just used the horse to show off riding skills to a woman neighbour he loves – is still sitting haplessly astride his beast when she is mounted by her breakaway admirer.

Other tales include a fence-snipping rustler blinded by a rebel rebound of barbed wire and a young Spanish horse-lover, caught by blizzard, disembowelling his ride to enter it for warmth and sanctuary. We have no idea what will come next, only that it will amplify the acoustic of awe, horror and wonder. This is a mad world where primitive unreason co-exists with a logic of survival, where the death force is constant companion to the life force. In one episode a rider urges his horse into the sea – braving icy waves – to rendezvous with a trawler doubling as a rogue vodka dispensary. He pays the ultimate price; but, typically of the film, in the least expected way.

By the time the cast of characters – those still living and un-chastened – unite for a town party amid the season’s new-corralled horses, Erlingsson has persuaded us that the Wild West is alive and well in a new (to our eyes) Wild North. Heroism; outlawry; violence; and that elemental law that all men were born equine but some are more equine than others.

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