When writer/director Hans Petter Moland in 2004 first looked at “Out Stealing Horses”, a novel by Per Petterson, he found it “too painful”. The story reminded him of his own youth, growing up on a farm in a desolate area of Norway. But years later, upon revisiting the novel as a film, age and the passage of time helped him to consider the project in a totally different light.
OUT STEALING HORSES is a fragmented telling of 15-year-old Trond (Jon Ranes) in 1948, the most pivotal summer of his young life. Narrated by 67-year-old Trond (Stellan Skarsgård) in 1999, the movie jumps almost scene by scene from Trond’s new life of self-imposed isolation now back in Norway to that momentous summer long ago.
His reminiscing is precipitated by his move after living in Sweden for over 40 years. He settles into a remote area hoping to celebrate the new millennium quietly. His new neighbor, also an older man with a dog, stops by seeking companionship and it isn’t too long before each discovers the other’s identity.
In 1948 Trond’s father (Tobias Santelmann) has left their family to pursue logging in the wilderness of Norway. Trond was sent to spend an idyllic summer with his father --- and for the most part it is just that. He and his friend, Jon (Sjur Vatne Brean), escape during the day to go “out stealing horses”, which is just a euphemism for riding them.
Following one such afternoon, when his friend seemed particularly despondent, Trond learns from his father that Jon was supposed to be watching his younger twin brothers the day before but went out hunting instead. Upon his return, one twin picked up Jon’s loaded rifle and accidentally shot and killed the other. Lars (Bjørn Floberg), Trond’s new neighbor, is the twin who shot his brother.
OUT STEALING HORSES is one of those almost-perfect small foreign films. (It’s not quite perfect, though, because unlike me, David doesn’t love it.) It is a haunting tale of life with all its deceits, guilt and quiet longing.
Skarsgård, however, is completely perfect. His older Trond has accepted all that life has brought his way. He even tells us at the beginning of the film “If you were to hear how my life went, you would hear my life went well. I was lucky.” He feels no guilt or remorse, and Skarsgård conveys these sentiments softly through his actions.
What sets OUT STEALING HORSES apart is the exemplary cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk and the spectacular score by Kaspar Kaae. Whether it’s the older Trond navigating the harshness of Norway’s winter or younger Trond reveling in the beauty of Norway’s forests, the lush photography is breathtaking. Fields of wheat, wild horses, torrential downpours have never looked more beautiful --- all punctuated by Kaae’s frenetic music.
OUT STEALING HORSES is a specific ride for those who appreciate the beauty of life, love and forgiveness.
Available On Demand August 7th.
Opinion: See It Now!
This movie with the strangest title since THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? (1969, nine Oscar noms, one winner) has a lot going for it. OUT STEALING HORSES received the Best Film award for 2019 at Norway’s Amanda Awards. It was also nominated in other categories --- including Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.
At a few minutes over two hours, the film is dialogue driven with precious few, albeit well-choreographed action sequences. Based on Per Petterson’s highly acclaimed novel, it is compelling and extremely well-acted.
A tragic childhood incident is the basis for constant flashbacks over a 50-year period. Veteran actor Stellan Skarsgård stars as 67-year-old Trond, purposefully isolated in a winter cabin in 1999.
Flash back to 1948 when 15-year-old Trond (played by Jon Ranes, nominated for Best Actor in this, his feature film debut), and his close friend, Jon (Sjur Vatne Brean), are out hunting rabbits and “stealing” horses. Note: they don’t actually steal the wild horses. Trond, at least, merely manages to jump bareback in one scene for a fun ride.
But Trond has noticed that Jon is acting very oddly. It turns out that Jon, 17, was given the responsibility the day before to watch his younger 10-year-old twin brothers, Lars (Torjus Hopland Vollan) and Odd (uncredited) while his father (Pål Sverre Hagen) and mother (Danica Curcic) were not at home. But Jon is preoccupied and forgets his task. When he returns from hunting, he hangs his loaded rifle on the wall. As Lars and his brother are playfully jousting inside the house, Lars grabs Jon’s hunting rifle and aims it at Odd with tragic results. Jon, back outside the house, hears the gunshot. Now we know why Jon is upset and distracted. His guilt is overwhelming. But that pales in comparison to Lars’ guilty conscience.
Trond and his father (Tobias Santelmann) work together cutting down trees and stripping the bark for sale as lumber. This leads to some fascinating footage with the father and a friend setting up the now stripped logs to flow down the river for sale on the open market.
As I mentioned, OUT STEALING HORSES passes back and forth frequently between 1948 and 1999. When the adult Lars (Bjørn Floberg, Amanda Award winner for Best Supporting Actor), shares a meal in his neighbor Trond’s cabin, they recognize each other from 50 years earlier.
Skarsgård may appear to be the lead actor, at least to American audiences, but his role as the older Trond is essentially a supporting role. It is Ranes who captures the spotlight in OUT STEALING HORSES with his rather remarkable performance for such an inexperienced actor.
Santelmann and Curcic are also standouts in their portrayals. As the wife in an unhappy marriage, and having lost one of her sons, Curcic renders a sympathetic turn, particularly when she first hears of the accident. And the handsome Santelmann is an impressive screen presence with his rugged movie-star looks. Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, who also wrote the screenplay from Petterson’s book, collaborates with Danish cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk to regale his audience with a multitude of spectacular shots.
Despite the accolades I’ve given to this film, it did not affect me emotionally as perhaps it could have. Nevertheless, judge for yourself and see OUT STEALING HORSES on the largest screen available in this era of Covid-19.
Available On Demand August 7th.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!