The Icelandic drama Of Horses and Men (Hross í Oss) explore the more animalistic sides to human nature by, among other story points, contrasting the prominent sexual drive in a philly and a stallion with the repressed sexual drive of their male and female owners. Added to this scenario are a row of situations whenyttja human uses the horse’s function to get at what he or she is desiring the most, be it a drink or social status within the group or a literal need for survival.
There are aspects of the stories told that truly move me, this thanks in large part to the warmth shown towards the subject matters and the humour used to depict how the actions of a small bunch of characters affect and are affected by each other. The breathtaking Icelandic landscape with its craggy loneliness helps underline how small us humans are in comparison to nature and how our natural urges may come to be turned against us if we attempt to deny them with human laws.
Writer-director Benedikt Erlingsson attended the showing of the film at this year’s GIFF. He grabbed the microphone before the movie started to tell the audience that no horses were harmed during the shoot. I didn’t understand exactly how much weight I would come to attach to this assurance until a short few scenes into the movie and so the warning could be made: several horses come to harm during the progression of the film’s plot. These moments were not all of them bloody and graphic, most of them weren’t at all, but it still affected me negatively as I – as audience – find it difficult to stomach animals being hurt. However, it did not affect my overall impression of the film. The plot gave me an insight into Icelandic culture and its people that I didn’t have from before and it circled a group of interesting relationships.
That the Icelandic horse plays a central part in this film is not just to drive home the point of how people can be more like animals than the animals themselves both by choice or from necessity, it is also because the Icelandic horse and the work it generates is the focal point of the small community in which the characters all live. Admittedly I could at times feel as though the film was angled a bit too much towards an audience already thought to be familiar with horses and their nature as a lot of details were lost because I felt I lacked the knowledge to properly interpret them. The same with the actual treatment of horses on Iceland, be they broken in or roaming wild. In the end these impressions all proved to be insignificant when the basis of the film is the human being, her nature and how it may do us all some good to not allow ourselves to blindly follow social conventions, but instead set free the animal that is likely to otherwise turn into a beast within us.
Hross í Oss – though not part of the official selection – competed to join the Best Foreign Film category at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Three Chaplins out of Five.