Of Girls And Horses (Cert 15)
1 Discs DVD (Distributor: Peccadillo Pictures) Running Time: 82 minutes approx.
German filmmaker Monika Treut has a thirty plus years career behind her, taking in documentaries and feature length films of varying subject matters, although gay love is a common theme. Thus it shouldn’t take much of a genius to figure out the developments of her latest film, and just in case you have a deviant mind, it doesn’t involve the horses!
16 year-old Alex (Ceci Chuh), a truculent teen with the bad attitude whose disruptive behaviour has driven her adoptive mother to the end of her tether. The last resort is an internship at a farm in the country under the tutelage of Nina (Vanida Karun), herself on a break from her city life with her lover Christine (Ellen Grell).
Alex throws herself into the work looking after the horses but inside she resents being there until company arrives in the form of privileged girl Kathy (Alissa Wilms). Despite having little in common the pair gradually bond but the relationship looks grow into something much deeper.
The equine beasts are the catalyst for the girls to bond and the barometer for Alex’s progress in leaving her troublesome, abrasive persona behind and finally becoming a responsible and mature young person. It seems cliché but sometimes one needs to go with the simplest route to a solution rather than overcomplicating things – besides there is more to the story than horses.
Alex – her name is actually Alexa but she prefers the truncated version – is your typical movie teen misfit, with her smoking, drinking, stroppiness and ominous cut marks on her arm. From a letter written to Nina, we learn that Alex’s last misdemeanour was to buy and sell drugs among her school friends, and aside from a later revelation about her real mother living in Brazil, Alex’s life remains a guarded secret from the audience and other around her, but it is enough for us to be getting on with.
Kathy is pretty much a blank canvas as far as backstory goes, with only her love of horses and rich parents being all we learn about her. She is at the farm on a holiday and has her own horse, with whom she sleeps in the stable on the first night while she (the horse) settles into the unfamiliar surroundings.
Nina’s character is also fleshed out by her actions rather than exposition. She is stern but fair with Alex and rarely plays the heavy authority figure. Whenever Christine calls Nina replies with a smile but her agitation at her peace being disturbed is palpable, but the quiet rural life and company of the horses brings her back to a serene state.
In a later scene when Nina learns that Alex had stolen some of her medication to swap for weed, instead of blowing her stack and hauling her off to the police, Nina calmly gives Alex one more chance to redeem herself. And by way of reciprocation, Alex silently accepts the warning and behaves herself – sort of.
Treut’s film is something of a paradox in that it crams a lot into its 82 minute run time yet doesn’t appear to give us enough. The open end comes out of nowhere yet it is somewhat fitting within the context of the story so it is forgivable, even if we are left wanting more. That said had it gone any further it might have spoiled the gentle magic spell that Treut has cast over us with this standard but charming coming of age tale.
Before we go any further anyone reading who perked up at the notion of any potential Sapphic shenanigans occurring due to the nature of the story is briefly rewarded with a few soft focus moments between Nina and Christine while the teens are limited to a few drunken kisses. While some filmmakers feel compelled to go overboard with the explicit sex in their films (Blue Is The Warmest Colour says hello) Treut’s works better without it, keeping a nice sense of mystery and romance about the girls’ relationship.
And that is how it comes across with Alex and Kathy, albeit manifested through unusual but playful means. First it is a silly straw fight in the stables then it is a rumble in a drained out river that leaves both covered in mud and silt. A childish as this sounds it is an innocent bonding process for them and Treut shoots it as such, no hidden agenda or subtle meanings, which makes for a refreshing change.
Rural Germany isn’t often seen on screen so we must cherish the luscious photography here that makes it seem like the idyllic and peaceful haven it represents for Nina and the girls. Lovingly captured in all its panoramic glory, it even helps us appreciate the escapist wonder of galloping away of one of the sturdy horses featured.
With three such interesting characters to portray Treut chose well in her casting. Vanida Karun plays Nina as a patient older sister than a responsible adult assigned to straighten out troubled teens, but her relaxed guidance is effective. Alissa Wilms is a plain looking girl, making her seem an unlikely choice for a lesbian love interest for someone like Alex, but she grows into this role, maintaining an air of intrigue insofar as to who is leading whom in the relationship.
Ceci Chuh deftly handles the pressure of leading the charge as Alex, and while her emotional growth is charted with some haste, the character never loses her cynical edge. Evan as Alex warms up greatly she remains slightly guarded and as a result Chuh is never less than engaging throughout.
The lack of direct drama might make this feel a bit lightweight for some but it prevents the film from being deliberately melodramatic and less natural. The biggest setback for Of Girls And Horses however is that it feels like it has much more to offer although what we get is sufficiently charming and very well made.
German Language 5.1 Surround Sound
German Language 2.0 Dolby
Rating – *** ½
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