2014 Milwaukee Film Fest - Horses of God | Of Horses and Men
Can't Stop the Movies

2014 Milwaukee Film Festival Reviews (#3) – Horses of God and Of Horses and Men

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Horses of God – Dir. Nabil Ayouch (3/5)

The first act of Horses of God reminded me of City of God—an energetic camera follows a group of kids as they play, hustle, and fight their way around a Moroccan slum. We're introduced to Tarek and his older brother Hamid—who's perpetually bursting onto the screen waving a bicycle chain and spewing threats—and follow them as they grow into young adults. These early sections capture a rhythm of life in the slum as well as a number of its complexities involving interpersonal relationships between the boys and their friends, the politics of control in the slum, and their relationship with and notions of the exterior world.

That Horses of God is ultimately a fictionalized account of the people and events leading up to the 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca would not be immediately apparent if it weren't for a few quick lines of voiceover dialogue foreshadowing these events during the opening credits. The first act lays the groundwork for us to understand how the brothers and their friends would eventually be vulnerable to the manipulative practices of a predatory imam who pulls them into radicalism, but the second and third acts fail to maintain a similar level of insight.

As we follow the characters through their initial introduction to Imam Abou Zoubeir and all the way through their eventual suicide bombing mission, the movie seems accurate in a textbook sense—it knows all the relevant details, but not how to illuminate them. We don't get a clear sense of where or why the boys shift over into radicalism—rather, they are skeptical of the imam and his group at one moment and then completely devoted at the next. This is a shame, as the early scenes are so good that a film bringing that same level of empathy and nuance to the process of conversion into radicalism would be a powerful thing to behold. Horses of God isn't bad, necessarily, but it squanders a great opportunity by ultimately falling back on archetypes and tropes we've seen before.

***Horses of God is currently on Netflix Instant, and is available to rent on Amazon here.

Benedikt Erlingsson's Of Horses and Men

Of Horses and Men – Dir. Benedikt Erlingsson (3/5)

Of Horses and Men is an Icelandic comedy loosely structured around the inhabitants of a remote village, told through vignettes that all in some way involve horses. It ranges from absurd—as in the first story about a man who parades his prized mare around town and his humbling embarrassment when nature takes its own course and interrupts his daily ride—to dark (and sometimes darkly funny), as in a story where a man must go Empire Strikes Back on his horse to prevent from freezing to death at night.

There's just the right amount of crossover between characters and settings to make this feel like a good short story collection rather than a forced anthology film. And there are a few nice touches, like a repeated visual motif where glints of light from houses and farms in the distance indicate who's watching who through binoculars and when. Worth a rental some night if you're looking for a more offbeat entertainment than you're going to get from standard U.S. comedies, but not something I'm going to think about much again in the future.

Next Update (Monday, Oct. 6) – The Tribe (one of my favorites of the festival), a Ukranian film using only untranslated, un-subtitled sign language and horrifically raging ids.

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Posted by Kyle Miner

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