Berlinale 2019: Hans Petter Moland's New Film 'Out Stealing Horses'
by Alex Billington
February 13, 2019
Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland continues to impress me with every new film he makes. Even if it's not the best film, even if it has some issues or falls apart with a story that doesn't amount to much, his work is still remarkably compelling and gorgeous to watch. He's a true master of cinematic visuals and gives us such evocative imagery in every film, making it seem like it's so easy to capture such stunning beauty to accentuate his storytelling. Out Stealing Horses, originally titled Ut og stjæle hester in Norwegian, is the latest film by Hans Petter Moland who reteams with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (they last made the film In Order of Disappearance together, which also premiered at Berlinale in 2014). There are some good ideas in this, but alas it doesn't amount to much despite intriguing layered storytelling. Which is a let down.
Out Stealing Horses is a cinematic character study about a Norwegian man named Trond (Skarsgård) who, at this point in his life as he gets older, has decided to settle down in a cabin in the countryside on his own. When he meets his neighbor one day, it sends him spiraling back through a look at his youth and the days he spent in this forest. He spent one unforgettable summer with his father in a cabin, which is where most of the film spends its time as well. Trond spends his days running around and "stealing horses" (mainly riding horses for fun) with his friend Jon. But then something happens which disrupts everything, and life begins to change as the summer progresses, deeply affecting his father and the other families working in the same area. It's a look back at one man's life and how he reconciles with and thinks about it all now that he's older.
Above all else, I really, really love the filmmaking in this. Moland utilizes striking cinematography and sharp sound design, throwing in many gorgeous, lush shots of the trees and forest. The coloring makes it all look so alive and tangible, which makes this film stand out compared to so many other more drab looks these days. All this stunning footage works especially well in making this film feel like a true cinematic experience, enticing the viewers into the story and making the film feel more nostalgic. Sometimes he splices in various shots of nature to go along with the rest of the footage, which at first seems distracting but eventually they work there way into the storytelling, emphasizing the fractured narrative with a bit of fractured editing. It's worth seeing Moland's films just to bask in the beauty of them, and understand the emotions he can convey.
Moland's Out Stealing Horses unfortunately lacks a worthwhile enough story to end up being as memorable as the cinematography. There are some good ideas introduced, examining what a life lived means and how we deal with the key moments when they're dug up later in life. But they never solidify into much more than some basic ideas. This fairly humble look-back-at-his-life story starts out interesting, but drifts away by the end losing its focus. I loved the first half when it was getting going, drawing us into the mystery. But it lost me by the end, and doesn't build up to much besides a quiet end - perhaps just like real life. The haunting, eclectic score by Kaspar Kaae is one of the most unique parts about this, only further emphasizing how all the technical aspects are exceptional, but the script isn't on par. I'll still be watching his latest films anyway.
Alex's Berlinale 2019 Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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