There are several anecdotes, lines, and dramatic turning points in Norwegian-Swedish drama Out Stealing Horses (Ut og stjæle hester) that seem to be the emotional crux of the picture. Until the closing minutes, however, each reveal peels back to expose a further gut-punching psychological scar. No thought or action can be fully appreciated at face value; the impact of seemingly benign actions unspool to become life-defining moments, aided by Kasper Kaae’s evocative score and the quasi-poetic sensibility with which writer-director Hans Petter Moland imbues monologues and recollections.
The story follows Trond (Stellan Skarsgård and Jon Ranes), whose discovery of an old acquaintance upon moving back to Norway triggers memories of a teenage summer. The resulting bildungsroman intertwines with the present day’s unanswered questions, engrossing viewers in a melancholy tale of loss. Each tragedy’s ache – whether recent and raw or long suppressed – is palpably conveyed by Skargård’s and Ranes’ stoic yet vulnerable performances. At the same time, the film is aware – sometimes sardonically, sometimes lovingly – of the innate, universal humour of human foibles.
Logging quickly emerges as a motif in Trond’s life, which is explored in depth in his teenage flashbacks. Without spoiling the entire significance, the strenuous labour, unmistakeable percussions, and imposing formations inherent to the practice act as metaphors for life and death in young Trond’s world – one still scarred by the Nazi occupation. These constant, landscape-changing rhythms also serve as a foil to the quieter – but no less powerful – shattering of Trond’s innocence.
A central message in Out Stealing Horses is how humans experience (or decide to experience) pain. Holding onto the large and small hurts of a life is portrayed as an intensely personal decision, but the pain demands attention. The characters’ choices and consequences are not judged but marked with kindness, creating a memorable, moving narrative.
CAST: Stellan Skarsgård, Bjørn Floberg, Tobias Santelmann, Jon Ranes, Danica Curcic
DIRECTOR: Hans Petter Moland
WRITERS: Hans Petter Moland (screenplay), Per Petterson (novel)
SYNOPSIS: Following the death of his wife, 67 year-old Trond Sander retires to a small village in Norway but runs into an old acquaintance who reignites memories of his youth.