Of Horses And Men

Reviewed by Stephen Pye

I remember the author Sarah Moss speaking at "Words by the water" two years ago. She had not long returned from teaching English at Reykjavik University. She had greatly enjoyed her time there and grew to love the place and the Icelandic people, but she did remark more than once upon their "quirky" sense of humour.

This she thought entirely understandable in a country where human beings have to fit in with the natural world and sometimes endure its capriciousness. This quirky sense of humour was more than evident in Benedikt Erlingsson's directorial debut "Of Horses and Men". One critic described it as "the best Icelandic, equine, film noir, comedy I've ever seen"!! The film is beautifully shot and is, if nothing else, a paean to the Icelandic landscape in the same way Woody Allen's "Manhattan" is a paean to New York. Iceland is a place of contrasts, and the film is set in the south west fiords, not an active geothermal region, although it is clearly Icelandic with the horses crossing the black sand interior.

This film has been much praised by the critics but it also problematic. There is very little by way of storyline, more a series of cameos set against stunning backdrops, seen as much through the horses eyes as ours. There is also, blood, gore death and sexual congress (both human and equine). The club asked me to apologise for advertising it as PG rated; this was definitely a mistake!

Ironically we had just returned from a Hebridean island and our nearest neighbours were across a sea loch, so binoculars were essential items. In "Of Horses and Men" watching is a major activity: people watching people, people watching horses, horses watching people, and horses watching horses. Icelanders clearly love their horses, but in a unsentimental manner as befits their harsh environment.

For me the lasting impressions are indeed environmental. Not simply the sheer beauty of the vistas but the also the clear love of the horses, without which human activity in such a place would be rendered impossible.

The film also had a wonderful and idiosyncratic score by David Thor Johnson. The comedy is as black as the lava tracks.