A 60-something widower recalls the bittersweet summer he turned 15 in the Norwegian film “Out Stealing Horses.” It’s based on the award-winning book by Per Petterson.
The story unfolds in a sometimes confusing timeline, alternating between Stellan Skarsgård as the adult Trond and Jon Ranes playing the character at age 15.
The film begins in 1999, when Trond has moved to a remote village after the death of his wife. With only his Black Lab dog for company, he reminisces about the last summer he spent in Sweden with his father (Tobias Santelmann).
Teenage Trond befriends Jon (Sjur Vatne Brean), who’s two years older and leads their adventures when they go “out stealing horses.” They’re not stealing the horses, just borrowing the horses for a quick, thrilling ride.
One morning, Jon is strangely quiet during one of their horse outings. In flashback, we learn a terrible family tragedy has occurred. And the two families — Jon’s mother and father and Trond’s father — become inextricably entwined.
The film takes an often dreamy, hypnotic, child’s eye view of nature, pausing to watch rabbits on the run and owls in flight. The cinematography is beautiful and the cast believable and subtle.
But, the fraught relationships between the two families unfold slowly, perhaps too slowly and too confusingly for many viewers. I had to consult the book synopsis on Wikipedia (which contains major spoilers for the book and the film) to make sense of the timeline. Ultimately, despite the excellence of the performances, the film left me disappointed.
OUT STEALING HORSES is now available to rent on Vudu or Amazon.
Viewers advisory: Animal lovers should note that the film opens with a neighbor telling the adult Trond about the time he had to shoot a stray German Shepherd that was preying on the local deer. He didn’t want to, but his mother insisted. As we learn more about the neighbor’s past, we realize just how traumatic this episode is. We later see the shooting in a flashback, but the dog is offscreen as we hear shots and whimpers.
We also see the teenage Jon out rabbit hunting, a scene that includes what looks like a real rabbit actually being shot.
Both the adult Trond and his neighbor, Lars, have faithful dogs and no harm comes to either of them. No horses come to any harm either.