Benedikt Erlingsson’s first film is a collection of brutally hilarious tales of life, loss and love set in the spectacular Icelandic mountains where, in a small village made up of distant cottages, the even more distant villagers make their living from breeding horses. There isn’t much else to do by the look of it, except flirt with the only eligible man in the village and keep a close eye on your neighbours (the local binocular shop must do great business). They’re a taciturn bunch, but it’s the horses that really tell the stories, standing strong and dignified among people beset with petty jealousies, and watching everything with an expression that suggests they’ve seen it all before.
The stories, grim though some of them are, are shot through with an undercurrent of real affection but be warned, there are a few scenes that are not for the squeamish. Erlingsson balances these out with jolts of dark humour and there are definitely some laughs here – a lot of this is because none of the horses seem quite big enough, so anyone riding them looks a little oversized. Add to that the strange gait that Icelandic horses are famous for, and anyone traveling anywhere at speed immediately looks ridiculous.
Towards the end of the film there’s something of a reversal of fortune from an early scene where the village’s eligible batchelor Kolbeinn (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) becomes an unwitting voyeur to a bit of equine love. It seems to encapsulate a lot of what Erlingsson is saying about man and horse – we’re not that different, especially when it comes to rutting around in the dust.
Fuelled by a cast who look as rugged as the scenery and who can convey their life story with a single glance, this is an impressive debut.