In the south of France is a near-desert region called La Camargue. There lives White Mane, a magnificent stallion and the leader of a herd of wild horses too proud to let themselves be broken in by humans. Only Folco, a young fisherman, manages to tame him. A strong friendship grows between the boy and the horse, but they must elude the wrangler and his herdsmen to live freely.
Beauty in Albert Lamorisse’s brand of cinematic poetry stems from a childlike view of the world that sees bliss and sorrow as inseparably bound and equally enchanted. Though more conventional than the director’s later, better-known The Red Balloon, White Mane is just as lovely and troubling an evocation of childhood fantasies. The title refers to the proud, majestic wild horse galloping at the head of its herd in a French marshland. “Whoever catches him can have him,” says one of the ranchers pursuing the animal; Folco (Alain Emery), a young fisherman enthralled by the magnificent beast, seizes the chance to tame White Mane. A bond develops between them, but it’s not long before the outside world intrudes into their utopia. Horses have a particularly noble spot in children’s coming-of-age stories, yet Lamorisse complicates and darkens the fairy-tale mood with a notion of purity that can embrace death. The great critic James Agee co-wrote the English narration, but White Mane works best in its wordless passages, creating indelible images of the boy and the stallion riding out of a burning field and, finally, braving the sea for “a wonderful place where men and horses live as friends.” Closer to Charles Burnett’s beautiful haiku of a short The Horse than to National Velvet, the film is a reminder that pain is never far from joy in the great children’s fables.
Two audio tracks:
1. French (Original)
2. English (Commentary)