Reviews and notes
2013 San Sebastian, Tokyo
2014 Rotterdam, Glasgow, Luxembourg, San Francisco, Sydney, Auckland
Benedikt Erlingsson's astonishing directorial debut weaves together a half dozen disparate stories involving beautiful horses and mostly unlucky humans in and near a modern Icelandic small town. It's a horsey movie like no other, each surprising tale marked to various degrees by black comedy, cruel fate, very earthy humor, and hints of the fantastical. Nature being a harsh mistress, some events here are rather shocking or tragic - those who automatically despise any film in which animals come to harm (only in dramatic terms, of course) had best stay clear. But less delicate souls may well find this unique equine-themed mix of folk art and fable exhilaratingly original.
- Dennis Harvey, San Francisco Bay Guardian.
"Hrut took hold of a gold-inlaid halberd which King Harald Greycloak had given him... Eldgrim now tried to get away, and spurred his horse; and when Hrut saw this he raised his halberd and drove it between Eldgrim's shoulder blades so hard that the coat of mail burst open at the impact and the halberd came out through his chest. Eldgrim fell dead from his horse, as was only to be expected."
So reads a segment from Laxdaela Saga
- a fairly typical example of the Icelandic tales, which sees horses, heroics, a fairly shocking level of violence and absurd humour intertwine. Benedikt Erlingsson taps into this spirit with his directorial debut, which takes a look at a present day community from the perspective of the horses they rely on. The animals may look small against the landscape but they are muscular and as quirky as those who wrangle them, running with their distinctive tolt
action - which means one of their feet is always on the ground and which gives them an unusual gait, known for its speed and comfort for the rider.
The film is told with the same level of bounce and rhythm, as we trot between stories - each beginning as a reflection within a different horse's eye. In one tale, we see how simple the act of desire between the animals is compared to the lust shared by a man (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson) and a woman (Charlotte Boving) and, later, how the pair may have more in common with the steeds than they thought. Elsewhere, there are tales of misfortune and bravery, some funny, some tragic but always with a horse.
Erlingsson's film - which is Iceland's nomination for the 2014 Oscars - is so connected to the environment and free of spirit that it bears no trace of his long career in theatre. Cinematographer Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson captures Iceland at its wildest and yet this is also a tale of intimacy without romanticism - the people in this isolated community may seem to be in the middle of nowhere, but the glint of their binoculars in the cold sunlight shows us that nothing is going unobserved. And though this may be a tiny community, the whole world is somehow represented, from alcohol-toting Russian sailors, to Swedish riders and even a Mexican visitor.
Striking images abound, from a horse fighting almost like a mythological mount, against the waves to try to catch a boat, to another lying dead in the snow and though they are never anthropomorphised, they are seen as vital companions to be wooed into a halter and treated with respect. All the while a swirling, swelling score of lusty choral work and insistent timpani from David Thor Jonsson carries us along with the bracing, beautiful brutality of the island's life.
- Amber Wilkinson, Eye For Film, 03 December 2013.
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