Finely muscled hairless young men treat each others’ bodies like pinatas in “Horse Thieves,” a rustic revenge tale set “somewhere to the East” in the early 1800s, when most men’s lives were smelly, brutish and short. A more compact French-language cousin to “The Duellists,” pic can be summed up as “kill my brother and I’ll sure as hell endeavor to kill yours.” Boasting scant dialogue and visceral violence, pic revels in handsome lads riding horses, frolicking in streams and wielding not-so-blunt instruments. Earnestly goofy venture also illustrates why we’re all glad there are no longer Cossacks in our vicinity.
Divided into three sections (“Him,” “Them,” “The Chase”), silly yet watchable pic concerns two sets of resourceful brothers possessing little besides their bodies, stamina, wits and courage. Nineteen-year-old Jakub (Adrien Jolivet) and younger Vladimir (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) undergo merciless hazing to become Cossacks. Vlad is killed by brutal Roman (Gregoire Colin) as he and sensitive sibling Elias (Francois-Rene Dupont) steal the Cossacks’ steeds. Jakub sets out across majestic landscapes to avenge Vlad. Primary emotions and raw physicality prevail in a binary world where you’re either alive or you’re not.