“Piaffe” Is for the Kinky Arthouse Horse Girls — And Not Girls

I think when most people use the term “horse girl” they’re referring to girls who grew up raising horses. The richest had their own horses kept at a fancy barn nearby, the really rich had their own horses in the big backyard of their parents’ house, and the just regular rich took lessons with equine on loan.

My elementary school had a few horse girls of this traditional variety. It also had a group of friends who didn’t yearn to be around horses, but to literally be them. They galloped around the yard neighing. Their favorite activity was chasing boys. Despite all the available horse-related names, they called themselves The Cheetahs. It’s as if the point was not to be a horse, but to be any animal, to be animalistic, to get in touch with their bodies and desires by being something beyond human.

Ann Oren’s feature debut Piaffe is about a horse girl. Well, actually, a horse woman. Well, actually actually, a horse person. Eva’s transfeminine sibling Zara has had some sort of mental health crisis and is staying at a mental hospital. In their absence, Eva takes on Zara’s job as a foley artist and begins working on a commercial for an antidepressant medication that features a horse. As Eva tries to replicate the sounds of the horse, she finds herself becoming more horse-like herself. Her newfound animal nature unleashes her eroticism whether she’s dancing at a Berlin club or beginning a relationship with a botanist who studies androgynous ferns.

This is a hypnotic film, light on plot, heavy on atmosphere. Its textual inclusion of foley reverberates throughout the film with a unique and effective sonic landscape. We may not learn a lot of specifics about Eva or Zara, but we’re placed in their dual psychology, feeling their complex relationship and carnal desires.

Oren is a visual artist and video artist and this film feels born from those worlds. And yet the experience of watching the film is more fun than challenging. At a brisk 80 minutes, it’s a pleasure to sink into Oren’s craft, to feel her work’s sensuality, to ponder its questions of gender and personhood.

While the sex and kink scenes are some of the best and certainly most unique you’ll see all year, it’s the relationship between the siblings that acts as the ten-pound horse heart of the film. Eva’s evolution toward horse is as much a gender expansion as a species one. Her tail looks like an uncircumcised penis peeking above her ass and even once it’s covered in a luscious mane, it still pulses with sex. That this change is born out of Zara’s absence suggests a connection between Zara’s transness and Eva’s new body. Oren doesn’t provide easy answers — she doesn’t need to. Simone Bucio as Eva and Simon(e) Jaikiriuma Paetau as Zara communicate their dynamic with looks and brief exchanges. During one fantastical moment, they dance around each other like a dressage competition, blending identities, sharing selves.

From Cronenberg to Titane, trans audiences have long responded to work that pushes the boundaries of human bodies in lieu of traditional trans storytelling. Piaffe is exciting because it doesn’t make us choose. There’s nothing traditional about this film, but the explicit inclusion of Zara’s transness allows the film to go beyond subtext. The transness, the queerness, is not secondary, it’s not something that must be projected, it’s one of many ferns the work unfurls. This is queer cinema at its queerest, queer cinema at its most exciting. It’s a thought-provoking, discussion-starting, tail-arousing work of art.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 521 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. Saw this movie at a theater near me. Wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but really enjoyed it! Your review did a great job of capturing the movie. I liked it but would have no idea how to describe it without minimizing it.

  2. This sounds really exciting, hope i find the film somewhere.
    What you write about connection between the siblings and horse parts/genitalia sounds completely bonkers and makes complete sense, on a gut level, not just for the film— mind blown. This imagry will stay with me for a while.

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