DVD: Of Horses and Men

STUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Benedikt Erlingsson | CAST: Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Charlotte Bøving, Johann Pall Oddson, Kristbjörg Kjeld
RELEASE DATE: Dec. 5, 2017 | PRICE: DVD $19.95
SPECS: NR | 80 min. | Foreign language comedy drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | Icelandic with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video  | Overall

If Benedikt Erlingsson’s 2013 Of Horses and Men is a typical example of Icelandic comedy, that small European island must be one dry and absurd place. A collection of interconnected vignettes taking place in a small rural community populated by people, horses, and not much else, Of Horses and Men offers up some pretty quirky tales about the lives of these isolated country folks that is part comedy, part existential rumination.

Erlingsson provides no context, backdrop, or clues as to who these people are, what they do for a living or even where they might be. That might be the point, or it might be that Icelandic audiences are so familiar with the setting that they need no such explanatory devices to understand the social commentary at play. Either way, Erlingsson crafts his dark comedy-drama well, allowing us to fill in the gaps and connect the dots as the film progresses. This small community doesn’t have much to do other than ride horses and watch each other riding horses. Each short vignette builds on the previous one in twistedly ironic ways, with a thin, connecting storyline that follows Kolbeinn (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), a bachelor who loves his mare perhaps a little too intensely and is pursued by Solveig (Charlotte Bøving), a single mother who jockeys for his attention (sometimes literally) against a couple of widows whose husbands have perished in extremely bizarre ways throughout our film.

Yes, there is a lot of raw, animalistic behavior throughout, underscoring the film’s main theme: for all his supposed sophistication, man is still very much an animal, one that is ultimately not much different than his four-legged companion. Erlingsson very subtly sets up this irony in the first scene, as we watch Kolbeinn and his mare ride with the extreme poise and deliberate gait one would observe in the fanciest of horse shows. All his voyeuristic neighbors are watching enviously from their own homes via binoculars: clearly, Kolbeinn is the cool guy in town. He engages in an afternoon tea with Solveig’s family, completely oblivious to the fact that his beloved mare is engaged in her own mating ritual with Solveig’s stallion just outside the house. On Kolbeinn’s ride home, the now-incredibly-horny stallion breaks out of his pen and has his way with the mare, while a very helpless and humiliated Kolbeinn remains trapped on the mare’s back. I can’t imagine how the film crew managed to safely film two horses going at it with a man in between, but however they did it, kudos to Erlingsson for achieving one of the most comically bizarre and memorable sex acts in film history.

The film only gets weirder from there, with tales of blindness, death, survival, and—of course—more sex. Of Horses and Men is one of those films you could never in a million years have ever imagined, yet clearly it’s an expression of both Erlingsson’s unique vision as an artist and the rural Icelandic culture that provided the fertile soil for these oddball stories to work so naturally and convincingly. This quiet, underplayed film treats its shocking subject matter with such nonchalance, several weeks may pass before you realize what a brilliant little work it really is.


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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.