Movie Review: ‘White Mane’

Horse Nation film critic Amanda Ronan goes out on a limb to review a 1953 French short about a young boy who befriends a wild Camargue stallion… and she wishes she hadn’t.

From Amanda:

Directed by Albert Lamorisse, the legendary photographer/filmmaker and creator of the board game RISK, White Mane tells the tale of a young French boy who befriends a wild Camargue stallion. Among other awards, the movie won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize in 1953 for Best Short Film.

The movie starts out by introducing the stallion, White Mane, and his herd of mares and foals.

We then watch the “gardians,” Camargue speak for cowboy, round up the herd in hopes of capturing and taming White Mane. The stallion leads them on a gallop over sand dunes and through the wet marsh of the Rhone Delta.

But he is eventually captured and the gardians begin a brutal assault to tame the beast. Four men against one horse didn’t exactly seem fair. White Mane manages to break loose eventually though, leading the gardians on yet another chase.

In the meantime we are introduced to a young French boy who provides for himself, his younger sibling, and presumably his grandfather by fishing. His younger sibling has a pet turtle and he has a pet flamingo… which I thought was really odd until I researched the Camargue area.

Anyway, after eating fish for their supper the boy falls asleep and dreams about his mystical connection with White Mane.

The boy catches up with White Mane the next morning, ropes him, and gets dragged for several miles.

This technique wins White Mane over temporarily and he allows the boy to take him home and feed him some chopped grass. When the herd passes by the boy’s house, White Mane takes off and once again is captured by the gardians. We then watch a 5 minute fight between White Mane and another stallion in the gardian’s roundpen. This looked very real and very brutal. Both of the horses used for this were severely wounded by the end of it.

White Mane goes back to the boy to have his wounds tended to, but the gardians are hot on his trail. So White Mane flees to the marsh to hide in the tall grasses. The gardians, in a final attempt to flush the beast out, set the marsh grass on fire. Again this looked way too real for my comfort. The horse looked very frightened.

The boy runs into the flames, jumps on top of the wild stallion and turns him in the direction of safety. Magically the single bit of rope around the stallion’s neck turns into a full bridle with a shank bit… but let’s not get caught up in the details. Outrunning the flames and the gardians, they happen across a small bunny, which they torture. After chasing it around for a good long time, the boy leaps off of White Mane and knocks the exhausted bunny senseless with his butt.

And then he eats it. After the bunny roast, the gardians find them and we are led on yet another chase scene.

Will the gardians catch them… again… for a third time? You’ll just have to watch and see…

…but honestly I don’t know if you want to.

This movie is just over 40 minutes long and contains little to no dialogue and about five sentences of narration to explain what is happening in the story. It was also very difficult for me
to tell the difference between what was real and what was staged. This movie, being 30 years my senior, certainly predates the idea of animal rights and cruelty laws. The stallion fight scene made my stomach cringe at the thought of this filmmaker deliberately turning two stallions loose on each other so that he could film the outcome. And in the end it was all for nothing because the story just wasn’t there. The ending… I just don’t understand what happened!

I give it ½ a Golden Horseshoe for the bareback riding scenes of the young French actor, Alain Emery, and ½ a Golden Horseshoe for leading me to several very interesting articles about the Camargue itself, which now is on my “Top Vacation Spots” list.

So, 1 out of 4 Golden Horseshoes for White Mane and a little prayer for the horses that were used during its filming.


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