Workhorse review – beautiful but plodding paean to beasts of burden | Documentary films

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This painstakingly composed black and white documentary about jobbing horses and their employer-companions is perhaps easier to admire than love. On the plus side, the cinematography by Ryan A Randall – a mix of widescreen, immersive landscapes and startlingly stylised shots with inky backgrounds, slow-motion details, or unexpected angles – is consistently beautiful. It’s what truly draws the viewer into this up-close and personal account, directed by Cliff Caines, of three different businesses that use proper working horses, great big massive ones, to do jobs that are in two out of three cases more often done with machines.

In the first study, a timberman in Canada uses his two steeds, cheeky Orlagh and stalwart Idaho, to fell and collect trunks, a logging method he insists is better for the forest. The relationship between the logger, who retires at the end of the segment, and his equine co-workers is so emotionally rich that the more workaday, people-centric subsequent sections pale in comparison somewhat. Really, this first bit works on its own as a short, but there’s still much of interest in the second part, about a farming family who use horse teams to plough their fields, and the third, about another family that put their horses through competitions to see which one can haul the most weight – which strictly speaking sounds less like work than sport.

By the last half hour, Caines’s use of long, slow takes, and the film’s clippity-clop walking pace grows a little numbing. Also, while the film-makers’ respect for their subjects is manifest, and the people featured all seem like experienced, loving custodians who don’t beat their horses, the film rather takes the humans’ word for it that these animals love to work, having been bred for it over generations. Admittedly, the horses themselves have no means to dispute that assessment, but if they could talk, you rather wonder whether they’d be quite so enthusiastic about lugging farm equipment and huge trees all day long.

Workhorse is released on 9 April on True Story.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Workhorse review – beautiful but plodding paean to beasts of burden | Documentary films

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