A Horse is a Horse, Of Course: Erlingsson’s Debut Visually Striking, Episodic
Iceland’s 2013 submission for Best Foreign Language film was the directorial debut of Benedikt Erlingsson, an actor that’s previously appeared in a variety of features, including Lars von Trier’s The Boss of it All (2007). A lauded title on the festival circuit, Of Horses and Men accumulated several awards for the helmer, including Best Director titles at the San Sebastian and Tokyo Film Festivals. Fluctuating between droll comedy and striking drama, Erlingsson establishes a fervent fascination that gently relates a handful of instances concerning a rural community and the relationship of several residences and their equine friends.
Love, sex, and death reign supreme between humans and their horses in a series of interrelated vignettes amongst a rural Icelandic community. Kolbeinn (Ingvar E. Sigurdson) is clearly attracted to Solveig (Charlotte Boving), who takes long jaunts on his white mare, Grana, to pay her visits for afternoon tea. But upon leaving Solveig one afternoon, her black stallion, Brunn breaks free and breeds Kolbeinn’s mare, unfortunately, while Kolbeinn is still atop Grana. The embarrassing situation is exacerbated by the fact that all of Solveig’s neighbors have a penchant for sitting outside and observing each other through binoculars, so his shaming is not a private matter. His reaction, however, is rather shocking. While this seems to quell the developing romance between Solveig and Kolbeinn, we are treated to several other asides in the community, including a man who takes his horse into the ocean to waylay a Russian trawler in hopes to buy some vodka, and then a rather violent neighborly feud concerning barbed wire fences blocking ancient horse roads.
With its memorable opening transgression, Erlingsson, who also penned the screenplay, develops an uncomfortable eroticism with its alignment of human and animal lust, two species that will eventually tread on each other’s physical comfort zones with acts of copulation. Erlingsson isn’t attempting to inject subversions, but faint recollections of La Bete (1975) or Equus (1977) may flit about in your mind whenever Ingvar Eggert Sigurdson (who you might recognize from a variety of Icelandic titles, like 2008’s Reykjavik-Rotterdam or 2006’s Jar City) and Charlotte Boving are in the frame.
A host of other spectacular occurrences unspool in the harsh tundra and desolate terrain of Iceland, a country whose austerely beauty is captured with translucent clarity from cinematographer Bergsteinn Bjoergulfsson (who also worked on Baltasar Kormakur’s The Deep). While Erlingsson’s free floating narrative structure seems a bit randomly unhinged, its insistent motif invokes the symbolic tradition of the horse as a symbol of fertility, and a prominent animal in Norse mythology.
As its title promises, it is an observational and anecdotal look at the relationship Of Horses and Men, filled with visceral moments and memorable imagery, leaving us as quietly as it began, it’s last shot of humans and horses freely intermingling amongst each other in the last great autumn herd.