Out Stealing Horses is a film of quiet beauty, in which every detail is connected to a universe of meaning. Directed by Hans Petter Moland and based on Per Petterson’s novel of the same name, the film focuses on Trond Sander (Stellan Skarsgård), a man who is perhaps bewildered by the trajectory of his own life, discovering at age 67 that there are still things he does not understand, that remain mysterious. It’s a lyric meditation on love, loss, the coming of age, courage and compassion.
Having lived in Sweden for most of his life, Trond seeks solitude in the Norwegian countryside following the death of his wife three years previously. The viewer experiences the film from Trond’s perspective, as the landscape evokes memories from the past. Arriving at the cabin in mid-winter, as he gazes at dry withered stems poking up through the snow, there is a flash of green leaves, the visual echo of a distant summer. A chance encounter with his neighbor Lars (Bjørn Floberg) disrupts Trond’s solitude, and images of the past begin to emerge. The film moves between winter and summer, as 67-year-old Trond reflects on memories of his 15-year-old self and the summer he spent in a cabin in Norway with his father. Almost as silent as the rocks and trees that surround him, Skarsgård evokes Trond’s rich and turbulent inner life, his visage expresses a world of history and feeling although his words are few.
If the aging Trond is a stoic, solitary man who chooses to close himself off from the world, the young Trond (Jon Ranes), while also given more to silent observation than speech, has a very open searching gaze. Ranes imbues Trond with sensitivity and intelligence, as well as the joy, eagerness and exuberance of youth, the urgency to prove himself, and the awakening of desire.
The present-day Trond shovels snow, chops wood, lights the fire in the stove, prepares his simple meals and with the help of his neighbor Lars, clears away a fallen tree; the work of physical survival is carried out efficiently and without comment. As Trond says to the mechanic in town, “I had a practical father, I learned a lot from him.” Yet the work of emotional, psychological survival, while no less necessary, is far more elusive. The film, with its lush sensory detail, evokes the images, sounds, scents, and textures of Trond’s past with vivid immediacy. There is a sense of the majestic vastness and force of nature, and a heightened awareness of small details – the weave of a red sweater, the feel of a leaf brushing against a cheek, an owl in flight, a bee hovering over a purple clover. All life, connected in a rich, colorful tapestry. As young Trond experiences and tries to understand and learn to find his place in the world around him, the secrets of the past are revealed. Choices made in the past have shaped the present, and while the past cannot be altered, in his encounter with the memories of his youth, Trond discovers the possibility of making different choices, change, and compassion.
Out Stealing Horses
Director: Hans Petter Moland; Screenplay: Moland, adapted from the novel by Per Petterson; Cinematography: Rasmus Vidbæk; Editors: Jens Christian Fodstad, Nicolaj Monberg; Music: Kaspar Kaae; Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Bjørn Floberg, Tobias Santelmann, Jon Ranes, Danica Curcic
Next screenings: Thursday, October 17th; Monday, October 21st. Tickets may be ordered online on the Haifa International Film Festival website.
Out Stealing Horses is Norway’s official submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.