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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Fool About a Horse
by Donald Levit

From alliterative Steinbeck out of Robert Burns, Of Horses and Men posits Carson McCullers love triangles where A loves B who fancies C who lusts after A. Neater titled as the original sound and sight rhyming Hross í oss, theater director and actor Benedikt Erlingsson’s first venture into feature film scripting and directing stirs horses into the human mix of lovers and beloveds in Ice and Fire drollery, screened for a week at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Icelandic, with dollops of English and Swedish and Spanish, intertwined episodes are introduced as reflections in the eye of the beholder. More in short-legged long-lashed liquid-eyed horses’ orbs than those of bipedal would-be masters, the eighty-one minutes also stars the stark landscape between sea and mountains. Rural in a country ninety-three percent urban, the “villages” are barely that, really just single houses a goodly distance apart from which bored and curious others salaciously observe goings-on through bi- or monoculars.

Just a few minutes in, the first of these “couplings” clues us in to the not-so-very-different-after-all status of the two species. Cooing lover’s endearments to white mare Grána, natty Kolbeinn (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) caresses her coat, slips on the bridle and has her noisily high-stepping the gravel road to adoring Solveg’s (Charlotte Bøving) house. They eat with her mother and son, while outside her dark stallion Brúnn smells the mare, goes into rut, and breaks the gate. The rider’s self-satisfied coming there and going thence spied upon by several pairs of eyes through glasses, so, too, is his humiliation still mounted in the saddle as the stallion mounts too and services the mare.

In the life force and in death, the two species coexist, complement and mirror one another, even if attitudes here lead to wondering as to which is truly sapiens, Houyhnhnms or Yahoos. Like battling farmers and cattlemen in the Westerns, Grímur (Kjartan Ragnarsson) rides out with two horses to snip the new barbed-wire enclosing fences of tractor-driving Egill (Heigi Björnsson). In the confrontation the machine turns traitor, while the blinded and drunk horseman needs to be rescued by Swedish Jóhanna (Sigriður María Egilsdóttir), a fragile-looking beauty who can out-ride and –corral the menfolk and drink with any of them.

She returns the bloodied drunk to his horse-trailer son Óli (Atli Rafn Sigurðsson), who in turn hires bicycling Peruvian Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Román Estrada), who has an eye for the Swedish lady, lies about his own horsemanship, and promptly gets stranded in a blizzard and literally digs inside the nag assigned to him, Piebald.

In between, burly bearded Vernhardur (Steinn Ármann Magnússon) abandons his overheated Land Rover, mounts Jarpur, and swims out to a departing Russian trawler for “very strong, don’t drink” rotgut, most of which he guzzles down at once.

There are strange deaths, shocking ones, some mourned in the tiny local church (Erlingur Gíslason as the pastor) with familiar pallbearers to the graveyard, and some simply outdoors.

But there are life and coupling, too, and double-entendre cattiness -- “Do you need a stallion, Ása?”-- along with neighborly cooperation at burials and at communal roundups and gatherings of man and beast. It is spring, and the cycle renews or continues in Iceland’s official Oscar submission of a year ago, in the making of which “no horses were hurt.”

(Released by Music Box Films; not rated by MPAA.)

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