By Hans Pedersen, July 2015 Issue.
What young girl doesn’t have an abiding love for horses at some point in her formative years? From German director Monika Treut (My Father Is Coming) comes the new film, Of Girls and Horses, which touches on the reasons the animals may be the source of such passion for young people. (Read Hans Pedersen’s interview with Of Girls and Horses director Monika Treut here.)
This movie, in German with English subtitles, is set on a European farm where the characters are immersed and ensconced in nature.
The coming-of-age story begins with the arrival of 16-year-old Alex (played by German TV star Ceci Chuh), who has been sent to the farm by her adoptive mother as a last resort. Nina, a riding instructor, greets the troubled teenager, who’s bummed out there’s no cell service and appears sullen in her rustic new surroundings.
But the petulant teen is drawn to the horses and quickly perks up after receiving encouragement and training from Nina.
“How does it feel?” Nina asks Alex as she rides the animal in circles. “Like sex,” the teen responds, and the trainer essentially tells her to just go with it.
A bond quickly develops between the girl and her trainer, but when Kathy, a student from an upscale family, shows up at the ranch on vacation, Alex grows jealous. She snoops through Nina’s belongings, and discovers photos of the trainer and her girlfriend, Christine, who lives in the city.
The sexual tension in the film simmers, as the women couple off in pairs to do their training, and a romance soon blossoms between two of the women. But a mistake one drunken night leads to terrible trouble on the ranch.
Equine therapy is a tried-and-true method for helping people who face emotional, developmental or interpersonal challenges. But, can riding horses help bring this troubled teen out of her shell?
Effectively, the film also manages to convey the confinement that Alex feels in this new, remote setting.
Treut’s camera lingers on these horses’ huge, piercing black eyes: long takes of the animals, and the natural beauty surrounding them, convey the idea that it’s all having a therapeutic affect.
Treut skillfully captures the natural beauty that envelops these characters. Disquietingly slow at times, in the way you might feel if you were sent to a rural location with no cell service, the movie nonetheless helps open up a quiet tranquility within viewers. Treut coveys this with long looks at the stillness of the landscape.
In this fashion, Of Girls and Horses makes a lasting impact – lingering in such a way that one may feel one has actually visited the environment. The movie is rewarding, but like a drawn-out day hike, the slowly unfolding sequences can start to feel tedious, but patient folks will find the speed of this slice-of-life story about women finding love on a farm helps cultivate a bit of a deeper connection to nature.
Treut reinforces this theme by skillfully immersing us in the natural sounds in the environment, along with guitar music that helps convey a sense of rural isolation.
It’s not a high-stakes film that solves the world’s problems or launches its protagonists into a precarious quandary: it’s simply a satisfying and enduring story about troubled youth finding a place in the world.
Of Girls and Horses is now available on OnDemand and on video.