Whilst I’m not usually one to label a film ‘bizarre’, Benedikt Erlingsson’s Of Horses and Men is one such film. The pull quote on the top of the DVD says ‘the best Icelandic noir equine comedy I have ever seen’ – a quote that I’d have to agree with. Taking place around a remote Icelandic village, the plot is built up of a series of vignettes all related to, as you may have guessed, men and horses.
I watched this quite close to the also great White God – a film which looks at the role of dogs in humanity, and the humanity in dogs as well – and couldn’t imagine a better pairing of a film. Both look at the roles of animals that have played vital roles in the great history of mankind. Here, horses are used as both an analogy for the beast that is inside us all, as well as a reflection of how us proud humans use these great giant beasts for our own gain. Whether it be for transport or for proudly displaying affection for another human, horses are an integral part in the history of mankind.
To go into too much detail with the stories displayed here would be to spoil some of the joy within this film. There is a great amount of joyous dark comedy here – moments like the man who commandeers a horse to swim out to a boat in the ocean to buy some vodka, or the traveller who enacts revenge on a man who has blocked a public path by cutting the barbed fences – which help reinforce the core theme of the respect for these equine beasts.
The imagery of the Icelandic vista is superbly realised here with fine shots of the rolling mountains and the green valleys – but really, it’s not hard to make this part of the world look beautiful. It’s then to Erlingsson’s credit that he manages to create some spectacular images of horses and their passengers navigating the varying countryside’s. Every element of the horse is essayed here with close up shots of their manes, their eyes, their hair – and in one of the more hilarious scenes, we also get a fairly good idea of what a horse’s penis looks like. On top of this, there’s a scene which recreates the famous Luke in a Tauntaun scene from The Empire Strikes Back – so on top of the exterior of the horse, we get a look at the interior as well.
Reflections in horses eyes give the viewer an idea of how these beautiful beasts see the world around them. Their eyes aren’t reactionary and don’t discriminate, they simply observe and wonder where their place the world is. Their interactions with the humans around them provides the film with some of the more entertaining and enlightening moments – such as when a couple decide to take a moment to have sex in a valley with a herd of horses watching on.
Whilst I am a lover of animals, I’ve always been fairly vocal in my distrust and confusion about horses. I’ve never really understood why they’re still around (showing my ignorance here) – however, thanks to this film I’ve got a greater understanding of why the relationship between horse and man is so integral. Benedikt Erlingsson has created a laugh out loud dark comedy with a bit of bite that thankfully doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. There are moments that bring flashes of Quentin Dupieux’s films, such as a valley’s inhabitants watching events take place from a distance through binoculars, but overall, this is a unique dark comedy. As that pull quote says, it’s the best Icelandic noir equine comedy you’ll see this year (or any year really). Heck, it’s only eighty minutes long, so make a double of it with the great White God.