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BERLIN 2019 Competition

Review: Out Stealing Horses

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- BERLIN 2019: Norway’s Hans Petter Moland takes on countryman Per Petterson’s much-loved and hard-to-adapt bestseller with beautiful results, thanks to trusty Swede Stellan Skarsgård

Review: Out Stealing Horses
Stellan Skarsgård in Out Stealing Horses

The high esteem in which Scandinavian cinema is regularly held contrasts quite significantly with the region’s representation in the main competition at major film festivals. Last year, The Real Estate [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Axel Petersén and Måns Måns…
film profile
]
was Sweden’s first Berlin contender in nine years, and this year, Norway has had its eighth admission since the start of the Berlinale in 1951. In this exclusive club, director Hans Petter Moland is the undisputed Mr Norway, given the Berlinale nod no less than four times, with The Beautiful Country, A Somewhat Gentle Man [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hans Petter Moland
film profile
]
, In Order of Disappearance [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hans Petter Moland
film profile
]
and, now, Out Stealing Horses [+see also:
trailer
interview: Hans Petter Moland
film profile
]
. As has become Moland custom, the lead is played by Stellan Skarsgård, which will have Swedes feeling that they, too, have almost got through the eye of the needle.

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This year’s combined Stellan-Norwegian entry, based on Per Petterson’s much-loved, multi-translated bestseller, starts out in 1999, right before the turn of the millennium. The 67-year-old Trond (Skarsgård) is looking forward to a quiet New Year’s Eve: “I’ll be getting fittingly drunk and then sleep as heavily as it is possible without being dead,” his rich, baritone voice-over informs. This, by his own evaluation, “lucky” man has just bought a cottage in the remotest of Norwegian countrysides. Here, he will enjoy the little moments in everyday life and simply let time go by.

Trond’s admirable plan is soon thwarted by a distant neighbour who turns out to be a reminder of an even more distant past. Flashbacks of yesteryears soon writhe, wiggle and push their way through, akin to the proverbial can of worms.

The neighbour’s name is Lars, the very same Lars that lived here with his family in the summer of 1948. Back then, the 15-year-old Trond and his father rented a cottage (the very same…) and did fun things that Viking descendants generally like to do: cutting down trees, doing naked headstands in the rain and stealing horses. At least, that’s what Lars’s older brother Jon calls it when he and Trond sneak onto the nearby farm and mount the horses bareback. Trond enjoys a nice coming of age. Then, tragedies strike, involving death, betrayal, abandonment and more death, affecting Trond, Lars, Jon and their families for decades to come. No wonder “lucky” Trond needs a good lie-in at the end of 1999.

Adapting Petterson’s novel – 240 expertly assembled pages, flashing back and forth between 1943, 1948, 1956 and 1999 – is a seemingly impossible mission. Moland’s script deserves warm praise but also demands that you don’t blink. A wonderful body of Trond’s inner reflections have had to go, however (as good a reason as any to pick up the book one day).

Moland’s film could hardly be more beautiful. It captures the essence of a long-gone summer when everything looked, smelled – and was – good. It encapsulates the cold, the darkness, the harried moments, and the melancholy of bygone days and bygone chances. The cast, jam-packed with Scandinavian acting nobility, shine. In trusty Swede Skarsgård, Mr Norway has once again found an undisputable lead, perhaps even a Bear-worthy one. His line about “not hitting that man in Karlstad” is pure Stellan by starlight.

Out Stealing Horses was produced by 4½ Fiksjon AS in co-production with Helgeland Film, Zentropa, Zentropa Sweden, Nordisk Film and Film i Väst. Its sales are handled by TrustNordisk.

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