ND/NF 2014 Review: OF HORSES AND MEN Is A Delightfully Deadpan Comedy From Iceland

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
Iceland's most celebrated theater director, Benedikt Erlingsson, makes a film debut with Of Horses and Men, a wry, episodic tales of love and death in a small community all reflected on the eyes of the much coveted Icelandic horses. The film garnered directing awards at San Sebastian and Tokyo Film Festival last year.

Despite their short and stocky physique, Icelandic horses are much prized for their stamina and hardiness and still factor largely into the lives of the inhabitants of the island nation. It's springtime and love is in the air. The setting is a windswept rural town and it's everyone's business what others are up to: they spy on each other with binoculars and gossip, not in words as much, but their frowning, weather beaten faces. First, it's a stately gentleman (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) who wants to show off his beloved white mare to his long time love interest, a homely widow (Charlotte Bøving) in front of her yard. He struts around proudly and even showcases the tölt (an ambling gait only inherent in Icelandic horses). But alas, the widow's black stallion, in his spring heat, gets loose from his inclosure and mount on the mare while its master is still on the saddle. Scandal!

As we hop from one episode to another, we discover there is a gentle rhythm, the harmony of everyday life at present in Of Horses and Men, just like the steady galloping of those majestic (despite their stature) beasts: there is a town drunk who takes his horse to the icy ocean to get to a passing Russian ship which supplies him with illegal booze, a young, perky Swedish rancher who shows her cowgirl skills in front of burly, slightly sexist Icelandic men, a feud between neighbors over a grazing ground that involves a tractor race ends in fatality, and an affable young South American man learning about how to survive in frozen landscape, Tauntaun-style from Empire Strikes Back.

Of Horses and Men are filled with these little absurd human/animal comedies all throughout against stunning Iceland backdrop. Its understated, dry humor and multi-culti, fish out of water segments strongly recall the films of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki. Erlingsson weaves the lives of the people and the animals effortlessly. With long takes and picturesque composition, there is a gentle lyricism in Erlingsson's storytelling that is quite unique and refreshing in today's 30 seconds attention span movie landscape. The film will delight the fans of Jim Jarmusch and deadpan comedies.

Of Horses and Men will be shown as part of FSLC and MoMA's New Directors New Films series on March 22 at 6:15pm and again on March 24 at 6:30pm. For tickets, please visit ND/NF website.


Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musing and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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