Of Horses and Men (Hross i Oss)Benedikt Erlingsson (Iceland 2013)Ingyar Eggert Sigurtson; Charlotte Boving
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 29 June 2014; ticket £7.80
Horses in a landscape…in vacuo…
It used to be the big studios that were accused of being demonic forces undermining the integrity of the director, but now it is the national tourist boards that have taken on the mantel of the corruptive element.
Erlingsson’s film is another movie from the island fringes of Europe, another landscape fest for the week-end away break zombies. Another backdrop.
Some of these island fringe films overcome their landscape manicure. Calgary for instance which if you disregard the Irish Tourist Board Crap as necessary Danegeld, has a provocation that drives its filmic logic.
This cannot be said of Men and Horses which as a film offers nothing either to film in itself or the Icelandic social and cultural matrices from which it is presented as springing.
A film by the dead for the dead.
Erlingsson seems to believe that you can replace thought with imageand that you can replace thinking with a bit of nifty editing and manipulation.Not an uncommon illusion in a era which is heavy on technik can-do and light on meaning.
For instance Horses and Men opens with a montage sequence comprising a number of big close-ups shots of a horse: mainly of its coat, but finally arriving at its eyes in which we see the image of the owner appear Except for a banal literality that this is a film that features horses, the montage is oddly detached from the flow of the film.The big close ups seemto be a recourse on the part of Erlingsson as a safe way to start his film.Likewise the use of digitied imagery seen in the eyes of the horses seem like a gimmick, a means of layingclaim to continuities rather than actually establishing themThese types of technical expressions are repeated by Erlingsson who evidently wants to believe these types of shots mean something particular . But just shooting big close-ups just producing digital FX and then inserting them in the film doesn’t actually mean anything unless they are grounded in structure or content.Otherwise such shots are just close ups for the sake of close ups, effects for the sake of effects; little more than postcards, something for the gaze.Most of Erlingsson’s camera work is characterised by the sense of vacuity: image for the sake of image – no meaning - empty shot.The landscape shots have same nondescript value.
The film is set in a valley in Iceland and takes the form a series of fragments, stories relating the people who live in the valley with the horses that roam wild there and about which animals part of the social round revolves.
The poverty of the narrative fragments is highlighted by the soap opera desperation that characterises them.All the fragments, and I think there were five, end in one extreme event or another: deaths - two men and two horses, castration of a horse and a fuck on the horse round up.The fragments are weak because with one exception they are simply enlarged events, they don’t centre on people.The fuck the deaths the castration the disembowelling.The characters appear as automatons driven by the the directors need to arrive at the event. The event is important, not the getting there. The events in themselves are designed to deliver an image, a magazine centre spread that is supposed to justify it.Images: the horse shot by his owner, the castrated stallion, the stallion covering the mare whose owner is riding her (This is the image on that adorns the posters for the movie), the horse disembowelled by the man seeking to shelter from the cold within its hollowed body. Images without human relations the real complexities of movement.Images like gratuitous acts of violence that are ultimately empty because they are detached from the bund of a social or human context…
The fragments except perhaps for the first story never engage with relations, either between people or between people and their animals.In the first story we see the man shoot his horse because it has debased his dignity, so the animal is in a critical way an extension of his self conceit.But otherwise the relations between the people and their horses revolve not around relations but doing things to them, and the relations between the people of the valley themselves is restricted to the running joke that they all spy on each other with binoculars, as if in such tight communities such methods were needed to know all about your neighbour.
The acting is unconvincing to the extent that in Horses and Men, it feels like the real people who live in the valley have been temporarily decanted form their houses and a set of stooges sent in to replace them.And the poor blighted audience, denied real people is forced to watch unconvincing fakes, and yearn for the return of the real folk
Horses are wondrously energised creatures, but close up images of them do not a movie even begin to make.