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August 8, 2020




written by: Hans Petter Moland (screenplay) and Per Petterson (novel)
produced by: Marie Gade Denessen, Lizette Jonjic, Øverås & Turid Øversveen
directed by: Hans Petter Moland
rated: not rated
runtime: 123 min.
U.S. release date: August 7, 2020 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)


There’s a compelling story being told in Hans Petter Moland’s “Out Stealing Horses”, which is probably why the film is adapting a best-selling novel from Norwegian author Per Petterson, but the narrative flow is a bit too ambitious and jumbled for its own good. It’s a film that looks beautiful and is well-acted, yet it’s also one of those stories where there’s not enough time spent with the more intriguing parts and it’s kind of hard to keep track of who’s who and why certain actions are taken (even after a supporting character drops exposition on the young version of the protagonist), despite typically engrossing themes such as loss, grief, guilt and scar tissue from the past.

Stellan Skarsgård plays a 67-year-old Swede named Trond who was behind the wheel when his wife of thirty-five years died in an accident about three years ago and has now isolated himself in a remote, wintry Norwegian village in 1999. Considering where he’s at in life (geographically, mentally and emotionally), one could gather that any Y2K fears are the furthest thing from his mind or maybe he’d prefer to be distant from society during this time and subconsciously lick his emotional wounds. Skarsgård is great at playing characters who are emotionally stuck in life. Since he’s so expressive, he doesn’t have to say much, which is good considering Trond is one of those characters who really doesn’t know what to say.




How he got this way is where we’ll spend most of the film, as writer/director Moland spends a good deal of time in 1948, a pivotal summer for a then 15-year-old Trond (a compelling Jon Ranes, making his feature-length debut), at a time when much trauma and confusion formulate coming-of-age experiences that would confound an individual at any age.

Flashbacks can be tricky in film. They can feel like a storytelling crutch or gimmick if not used effectively, viewers can forget what present day they started off in. The best use of flashbacks are ones in which we see the past through the memory of the story’s protagonist, and since memory is a tricky thing where specific occurrences leave an indelible mark on our psyche, those moments from the past may be accentuated while others become discarded fragments. The truth of Trond’s past may indeed be mired in what he still recalls from his experiences that summer, but whether or not he benefited from those experiences as he aged is something we will find out as his story unfolds.

Such reflection is triggered when Trond meets one of his only neighbors, the grey-haired Lars (Bjørn Floberg, who costarred with Skarsgård in 1997’s “Insomnia”), who is out looking for his dog one night. They meet that night and when Lars recounts how he killed a dog a long time ago and will never allow that to happen again, Trond is frozen as his mind recalls that summer spent with his woodsman father (Tobias Santelmann, “Kon Tiki”) in a remote hut near a river in Norway. He would help his father take down trees and send them down the river into Sweden as lumber to make ends meet. Trond also remembers how he met Lars back then as well, who was the younger brother of Jon (Sjur Vatne Brean), a friend that he used to sneak out with and mount nearby horses and take them for a ride (hence the title, which also refers to trouble-making in general). Something wasn’t quite right with John that day and through the adult Trond’s narration (Skarsgård’s voice is perfect for such reflection) we learn what tragedy befell John and his family.




The tragic event brings young Trond and his father to spend more time with Jon’s family after his friend goes off to war. This is how Trond meets his friend’s mother (Danica Curcic), who becomes a luminescent presence in his life since his own mother is primarily absent during this time. Tender feelings for her form in the young man’s heart, unaware that his father has become close to her since their time in the anti-Nazi resistance together. More trauma is recalled, the kind that occurred with his father (specifically in the cold river as the teen maneuvered some sap-heavy timber down stream) or the kind he witnessed as Nazis attempted to occupy Norway.

What adult Trond is haunted by in past are either tragic moments that were told to him or ones he experienced first hand. How they affect him now isn’t exactly clear, apart from the decision he has made to isolate himself from anyone who loves him (something we learn when his estranged adult daughter eventually tracks him down).

At the beginning of the “Out Stealing Horses”, Skarsgård’s voice can be heard stating how Trond feels no guilt, only loss. This is referring to the death of his wife, but one wonders if he’s trying to convince himself of that or if he’s also referring to his past…maybe both. Is it strength or denial to refrain from embracing such pain? His father once told him that it’s okay to think about the terrible things that happen to us and because of us, but not to hold on to them and own them. At the same time, his father also said to him, “We decide for ourselves what will hurt.” Such life lessons have clearly both helped and hindered Trond over the years.

One of the surprising elements of the film is how sensual it is, not necessarily in a sexual way (although that is eluded to), but moreso in how certain physical sensations presented. Through expressive camerawork cinematographer Rasmus Videbaek and precise cutting from editors Jens Christian Fodstad and Nicolaj Monbergand, the woods and farmland surroundings comes to life in a series of enchanting visuals, supporting by a transcendent score by composer Kaspar Kaae.

This is the fifth film collaboration between Skarsgård and filmmaker Moland, a pair that clearly seem well suited for each other. Moland spent the his last two times behind the lens creating two versions of the same movie, “In Order of Disappearance” and the Americanized version “Cold Pursuit” (starring Liam Neeson).

“Out Stealing Horses” brings to mind the works of Robert Redford (“A River Runs Through It”) and the contemplative aspects of Terence Malick. Despite such engaging visuals, Moland’s adaptation is often times confusing, eliciting questions that unfortunately take us out of the story. Knowing the film derived from a novel definitely made me assume there had to be missing pieces in the source material that was sorely lacking in the film, leaving me quite curious about Petterson’s book.



RATING: **1/2




After premiering at the 2019 Berlinale International Film Festival, “Out Stealing Horses (Ut og stjæle hester)” and went on to become the Norwegian selection for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, but it was not nominated. It can now finally be seen thanks to Magnolia Pictures in via virtual cinema theaters and by clicking here, you can support Chicago’s historic Music Box Theatre.

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