55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A film that will leave an indelible impression - if you have the patience to let it work on you
Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's latest, and likely last, film begins by recounting an anecdote from the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher and philologist who taught that life is nothing more than will to power, and that the task for us is to face up to this without despair and resentment, without insisting that where there are no absolutes there can be...
Published on March 29, 2012 by Nathan Andersen
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Art with a capital A
Shot by cinematographer Fred Kelemen in glorious black-and-white, Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse" is a movie more concerned with imagery and tone than with telling a conventional narrative. Indeed, a full twenty-one minutes have elapsed before a single line of dialogue has been spoken, and another six before we get a second (though there is some sparse...
Published 22 months ago by Roland E. Zwick
Most Helpful First | Newest First
55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A film that will leave an indelible impression - if you have the patience to let it work on you,
This review is from: The Turin Horse [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's latest, and likely last, film begins by recounting an anecdote from the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher and philologist who taught that life is nothing more than will to power, and that the task for us is to face up to this without despair and resentment, without insisting that where there are no absolutes there can be nothing worth while, that without the security of certainties there can only be emptiness. I don't think Tarr wants to resolve that question, but certainly aims to provide a setting that provokes it. I don't know if there's an ultimate moral or message here, but there's certainly room for meditation on the differences between men and beasts, between life and the land it depends on, and on the kind of carrying on it takes to elevate a life towards something like dignity and meaning. It's a profoundly moving film, that's so beautifully shot, with the subtlety of its lighting and the intelligence with which the camera moves, that it's hard to look away. Still, with a film like this you have to be patient. In classical Hollywood style, every shot aims to convey a very specific bit of information and as soon as that information has been delivered it's time for the camera to move or cut. With a style like that of Bela Tarr, the camera moves very deliberately, but slowly and cutting is kept to a minimum and that means that either you'll be bored waiting for the next cut and the next bit of info or you are forced to slow down, and register as important details you might otherwise overlook, such as the intensity of focus with which the father attends to his daughter as she helps him with his buttons, since he has minimal use in one arm. Or the sounds, or the lighting, or the subtle variations of mood that barely register on the largely impassive faces of the man, his daughter and their horse.
The anecdote the film begins with is that late in life Nietzsche was living in Turin, and he witnessed a peasant beating his horse. Devastated by the sight, and in an apparent effort to stop the beating, Nietzsche threw himself upon the horse's neck and wept; he had to be led home and after that was silent for the remaining years of his life. We know nothing of what happened to the horse, and so this film imagines what may have taken place. The peasant farmer drives the horse along a weary road, the wind whipping the dust into his face; he is met at home by his daughter, who helps him lead the horse and cart into the barn, and draws water from the well. She assists him in taking off his jacket and boots and he lies down while she prepares a couple of boiled potatoes for a hurried and unsatisfying meal, that he eats with a painful urgency, burning his lips and fingers. They sit and look out of the window at the wind swept hills, and there is nothing more, and the next day, if they're lucky, it will start all over all the same and won't at least get any worse. It seems a simple life, and the film does confront us with lives stripped to the essentials, what we all face but forget by way of distractions, that enable us to look away from these essentials of toil and trouble, taking care of basic needs to eat, to sleep, to find a bit of solace in the company of another person. These two have lost the capacity to laugh, to show more than a casual care for one another in ways that seem like habit, as when he calls to her that there is no more to be done and she should go to bed. All through, the howling of the wind never ceases. Still, they go to bed expecting the next day to be much the same as this one.
One might think this repetition, day in, day out, offers a practical example of what's at the heart of Nietzsche's most famous image - that of the eternal recurrence of the same. He considers this to be his hardest teaching - that one can count a life as worth living only if one could want it to recur in exactly the same way for all eternity. There's a kind of fantasy element to the teaching as it is normally presented, but the real weight of the doctrine can be felt only when it's clear that in a certain sense, when you strip them bare of inessentials such as the fact that every day we have something different to eat and watch a different set of mindless television shows, and hear different stories on the news that are in all essentials the same, most lives in fact do amount to a kind of endlessly recurring set of habitual practices, and you could think of this film as depicting the life of everyone, who has to get up and eat and get to work and deal with some kind of incessant blowing of something or other. Then the question would be: seeing life in that way, what exactly does it take to want it to keep on going on as always?
Bela Tarr has said he considers the face to be a kind of landscape, and it's also true that his landscapes exhibit a kind of face. He is a master of setting, and this film is set in a landscape that is more unforgiving and stark than almost anything he's depicted elsewhere, where the wind blows incessantly and refuses to offer any sign of letting up. Yet it seems that these characters are incapable of letting go. They carry on, day after day, and at some point it no longer seems possible and there's nothing to be done but to continue. One might consider this film a sustained reflection on the very will to live; but then the horse refuses, and his refusal to eat, to drink, to move on command appears here also as both stubborn and heroic, the act of a noble animal who refuses any longer to live merely for the sake of servitude, and stands in contrast with the almost empty gestures of day to day carrying on on the part of the farmer and his daughter, not out of any deep sense of care for their own existence but a sense of habit. A neighbor stops by to borrow whisky and delivers a monologue that seems to come straight out of a secondhand Nietzsche, an effort to give some explanation, even a depressing one, to the desolation they all feel, and the farmer dismisses it as all rubbish. One senses a resistance on the part of Tarr to explain anything or accept explanations whether optimistic or pessimistic - there is just life and there are the conditions in which a life goes on and in the face of conditions that make life almost impossible, there is the simple determination to go on or to refuse that we can witness on the faces of the peasant farmer, his daughter and the Turin horse.
Note that this review is based upon seeing the film at a festival; as I understand it the dvd and Blu-Ray release comes with a new essay on the film by J. Hoberman, and a commentary track by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Definitely one to see from a Blu-Ray.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bela Tarr's Masterpiece,
This review is from: The Turin Horse [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
In the thirty shots which comprised the entire 154 minute running time of the movie, "The Turin Horse" portrayed the decay of an already sterile relationship between a man and his daughter living a solitary life on endlessly windswept plains, their only lifeline to the world being their horse. As the horse refuses to eat and slowly approaches death, so progresses the lives of its owners. It's a stunning work that compares favorably with the best of early Bergman. Using a palette of stark black and white images and a deliberate sense of pace that echoes the work of Tarkovsky, "The Turin Horse" transports the viewer into the existence of its protagonists with such immediacy and emotional power that its lingering effect never leaves you. From its opening shot of the horse fighting fierce winds to pull a cart over miles of desolate plains to its closing image, which devastatingly portrayed the resignation of all hope, the film is a tour-de-force of all the possibilities that cinema offers. And from the standpoint of technical achievement, I am at a loss to explain how some of those seven minute-plus takes were done, traveling inside and outside the house into gale-force winds with immaculate steadiness and impeccable composition, rotating 360 degrees and immersing the viewer completely in its world. There is not a single shot that feels like it's "showing off"; every impressive tableau is so rooted into the fabric of the characters' lives that it becomes an inseparable part of the experience.
It is not an easy film to view for audiences accustomed to more traditional narrative structure. Indeed, there is nothing that even resembles a conversation in the film until well over an hour and fifteen minutes into its running time. Upon hearing a few of the comments during a screening I saw, I was reminded of how difficult it was for Antonioni's "L'avventura" to be adequately appreciated for its stunning originality at the time of its premiere at Cannes. It has subsequently been recognized as a milestone in cinema, as I believe "The Turin Horse" will be. It was a richly rewarding experience for those of us who plugged into what it was trying to say and embraced how it went about saying it. It is daring in its approach and bold in its objectives. I consider it to be a masterpiece.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to watch, impossible to forget,
This review is from: The Turin Horse [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Before you skip on to the next review (or movie), read this. If you appreciate artistic subtlety, the nuance of the unsaid, and beautiful black and white imagery, you should watch this film. I saw it at Telluride Film Festival, and to be honest it was difficult to watch, but I couldn't stop watching. Beautifully done, luxurious in its sparse storytelling, this film haunts me today after one viewing.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The unbearable heaviness of being,
This review is from: The Turin Horse [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Do you remember, Milan Kundera wrote this book about the lightness of the being? We just wanted to show you the heaviness of the being," this is what Bella Tarr said in an interview with the New York Times referring to his masterpiece The Turin Horse.
That comment by the extraordinary Hungarian filmmaker neatly sums up this magnificent, if challenging, film. As with all filmmakers of Mr. Tarr's caliber, the film works in many different levels and has many different layers of meaning.
However, and taking Mr. Tarr's comments as an illuminating starting point, rarely, maybe never before, has the cinema focused so intensely on the harrowing, soul crushing, involuntarily heroic aspects of physical work, and in this case, physical work connected to actual survival.
In an isolated farm, an old man, his daughter and a horse face the elements, starvation, and what for viewers would definitely be a soul crushing routine. And yet in facing this apparently dreary existence Tarr's character achieve a sense of grace, including the aforementioned horse, who simply can not move anymore; they are not heroic, we don't know if they are spiritual, we just know that for them life has always been this way and will continue to be this way, if they make it to the next day.
In this sense, this film has a touch of the eternal in it, and while watching it is impossible not to think of the hundreds of millions of lives which have been lived like this throughout history in all the world, and some which continue to be lived this way. It is striking that the lives of the father and the daughter are in some ways identical in their barreness to that of the horse, with the primary goal being survival.
That is why the film has the power and force of revelation, and why, after wathcing it, you feel you have seen one of the greatest movies ever made.
In a year in which "The Artist" was hailed as a hommage to silent cinema, it is Tarr's film which really has all the artfulness and brilliance of the greatest silent filmmakers. And it is also true that this will make the film forbidding for many, along with its more than 3 hours running time, almost any lack of dialogue, and the endless repetition of the daily routines of father and daughter.
In this sense, the film is a monumental achievement, akin to a ritual or sacred experience, and it deserves to be seen in as biggest a screen as possible.
"You are doing always the same thing every day, but every day is a little bit different, and the life is just getting weaker and weaker, and, by the end, disappears" Mr. Tarr said in the aforementioned Times interview, and then went on to emphasize the dignity in the face of adversity of the father and daughter in the film. And this struggle, in Mr. Tarr's hands, has produced a thunderous masterpiece.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eerie Howl of the Wind,
You won't be able to get them out of your mind: the eerie howl of the wind; the desolation; staring through the window at an isolated tree; the daily, repetitive, struggle; the entrapment both in the cabin and within each person; the rough hewn texture of both the cabin and the people; the layers of clothing - nine layers plus two more for the trudge outside for water; the weight of the water (or was it their existence); the grayness, the bleak, purgatory landscape; the eating utensils consisting of two wooden plates and fingers for smashing and eating the potato.
Who is trapped? The horse or the people? Sisyphus analogy except their tasks seem to get harder with time. The music and changing camera angles added to the sense of isolation. If only the wind, landscape and cabin were real - that would have been really impressive. Acting, directing - superb. Reminded me of "Le Quattro Volte".
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bela Tarr's Ultimate Statement,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Turin Horse [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Bela Tarr is famous as one of the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it directors. Either you like ridiculously long takes, sumptuous black and white cinematography and bleak existentialism, or you don't. For my money, The Turin Horse is his greatest film to date.
Werckmeister Harmonies is probably the best entry point for Tarr's work, since it's got an accessible plot, a likeable main character and some beautiful visual metaphors. Other Tarr fans may prefer Damnation for its specific commentaries on life in Communist Hungary. But The Turin Horse is Tarr's sparest and most elemental film to date, and a tough pill to swallow.
The film's frame intro involving Nietzsche is window dressing, only serving to explain why Tarr made the film he did. The film itself is incredibly simple: An aging man and his adult daughter live in a one-room house on a farm in the middle of nowhere with nothing more than a well, an oven and a horse. Suddenly the horse refuses to work or even move. Soon it refuses to eat. The man and his daughter must confront the fact that if their horse won't work, they are doomed to starve.
That's the entire plot. The film follows a week in the lives of this small family, as they follow the same routine with little variation: The father wakes up and the daughter helps him dress. He tries in vain to get the horse to work, gives up and goes back to bed. The daughter fetches water from the well. They have dinner, which consists of one boiled potato.
All the while, a windstorm whirls and pounds outside, and the house serves as the family's respite from the howling gales. I like to joke that Tarr films the most gorgeous wall plaster you will ever see, and there's some truth to that. The textures of the walls, the floor, the food, and the dirt are extremely vivid. The sound design is also so perfect that you will feel battered by that wind. It's such a relief when the door closes and the sound of the wind instantly dies down, leaving you and the characters safe in their home, as bare as it is.
This is clearly a parable, as the three characters present three different coping strategies for a life on the knife's edge of survival. The horse has simply given up and accepted the end. The father will never give up, and rages against the finality of death, sometimes in the absence of good sense. The daughter is pragmatic, keeping an eye on her father to make sure he doesn't write checks that his aging body can't cash, and accepting that death is never that far away. Sometimes outside influences show up in the form of visitors, symbolically offering their own answers.
The family listens to these visitors, but quickly concludes that nothing will improve their situation except meeting it head on. As a result there is hardly any dialog in the film. When you're starving, what is there to say except what is required? Little details hint at the character's lives outside the film, but Tarr's focus remains laser sharp.
The Turin Horse is harshly, unremittingly bleak. But in its purity, strength of purpose, and perfect execution, I found something incredibly uplifting. I feel that a great film is never depressing, and nobody embodies that better than Bela Tarr. After all, any species that could produce art this powerful is worth saving, right?
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can There Be Cinema Without Light?,
Ornamented with elements of Bresson's Balthazaar, Tarkovsky's Nostalghia and The Sacrifice, Bergman's The Seventh Seal, and Beckett's Waiting for Godot, this almost unbearably beautiful film stands as Tarr's simplest and most enigmatic. Here, the wind is music and Tarr's familiar film score from Mihály Víg becomes a kind of sweet pain killer. Deadly serious, but not without great suspense, The Turin Horse opens a window to the decay of a world that knew better days. The mother is gone, the other horse has died (or maybe was stolen), the father's right arm that built this magnificent stone barn and house has expired, the bird cage is empty. And it is sad, this last film from Bela Tarr. It's like death: mine, yours, the world's, the cinema's. Without light, how can those images be projected?
But, what are the daughter and father watching but a movie? Theirs is a kind of patience, but like the great Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa said, it is perhaps a patience without wisdom, without clarity in which, after time, people crack. Perhaps the characters are caught in a net of forbearance. Does the camera eye free us? Are we then able to transform forbearance into intelligent patience? Should we watch ourselves watching movies? And at the end, is the light of our minds enough?
Thank you, Bela Tarr, for sharing your vision of life with us.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nihilistic...Despairing...Hopeless,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Turin Horse [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Is it possible to depict existential emptiness without resorting to pretentious "Art Film" trickery? Apparently so, as writer/director Bela Tarr proves in this masterful meditation on a footnote in philosophical history: The moment when Frederick Nietzsche went mad after seeing a horse being beaten in Turin. Famously filmed in only 30 long slow takes, this movie makes no concessions to our restless and hyperactive 21st century consciousness. It consists almost entirely of the dull and quotidian activities of an old man, his daughter, and his horse during six days. We see them eating their boiled potatoes, fetching water, harnessing the horse, etc. in almost total silence. Even the poor horse seems to be depressed. As all this began, I found myself idly (and perhaps maliciously) wondering what a great parody Wood Allen or Mel Brooks could make of all this. Then something curious happened - I began to feel for these people as they stared endlessly out their window while the wind howled outside. Perhaps it was the music - mournful, repetitive, and played by something sounding like folk instruments - or the marvelously atmospheric B&W photography. Something got to me. Later that night, the Old Man, his daughter, and the horse actually visited me in my dreams. As cynical as I am, it seems that I had been deeply affected by this film. I am reminded of the famous quote from one of Samuel Beckett's novels: "I can't go on... I'll go on." Make no mistake, this movie is not entertainment and it is not for everyone. But if you open your mind to it, you will find a singular and profound vision.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The awe-inspiring coda to an awe-inspiring career.,
<strong>A Torinói Ló<strong> (Béla Tarr, 2011)
NOTE: while nothing in this review is technically a spoiler (for reasons I go into detail about below), there are people who may consider some of the revelations in this review to be such. If you are one of those people, don't read this until after seeing the film.
There area number of directors--among them Ozu, Miike, Wilder, and Romero--who have more than one movie in my top 100 films of all time. But only one, Béla Tarr, has more than one film in the top twenty. Until the completion of <em>A Torinói Ló</em>, released in English-speaking countries as <em>The Turin Horse</em>, Tarr was not only the greatest filmmaker of modern times, but possibly the greatest filmmaker of all time. Now, he has retired. Aside form the fact that this is a major blow to the filmmaking industry, it does have bearing on how one reacts to <em>The Turin Horse</em>, which would be joining <em>Satantango</em> and <em>Werckmeister Harmonies</em> in my top twenty were it not for one minor problem (more on this later, however brief). This is because while one can certainly get a sense of <em>The Turin Horse</em>'s soul-crushing despair despite having never seen a single frame of a Tarr film before, if you are familiar with the director's previous output, "soul-crushing despair" is far too light a term for what is, in every sense, a tale of the apocalypse. Yes, Tarr--Tarkovsky's greatest disciple, the man who took the long shot to such absurd lengths that even Tarkovsky never dreamed of--has finally made the love letter to Tarkovsky's science fiction days that has been markedly absent from his oeuvre.
"But wait," I hear those of you saying who have gotten a chance to actually see the film (which has only played in very limited release in America so far), "there's nothing at all science fictiony about this movie--it's more of Tarr's dreary black-and-white realism." And you would be right, but bear with me here. Explaining where I'm coming from requires a journey back thirty years. Possibly more, but getting one's hands on Tarr's early work has always been a bit tricky, and so the first of his films I've seen is 1982's <em>The Prefab People</em> (viz. review 15Apr10). It is intensely realist--I compared it to Jost and Cassavettes--but with the benefit of hindsight, I think this may have been the beginning of Tarr's creation of an alternate-universe Hungary, the taking of little poetic licenses here and there in the same way many filmmakers do in order to highlight a point or what have you. Then came <em>Almanac of Fall</em>, which is far more Bergman than Jost, and with Bergman must always come fantastic influences. (Never forget Tarkovsky leaning in the background.) It is an ugly, brutal, depressing film that manages to look realist while being the place where one can actually see reality fracturing away from Tarr's worldview. After this, three films with increasingly monumental events whose effects ripple through this now post-communist alternate Hungary: <em>Damnation</em>, <em>Satantango</em>, and <em>Werckmeister Harmonies</em>. It may be flip to say so, but the seemingly anomalous 2007 film <em>The Man from London</em> even fits; where else but in an alternate universe would Georges Simenon's novel have been set in Hungary? And while the events in the three preceding films echo throughout the country, in this one we have international implications. Where I'm going with this: the more you have immersed yourself in the world that Béla Tarr has created over three decades, the more this movie will mean to you. (In other words, if you haven't watched at least <em>Satantango</em> and <em>Werckmeister Harmonies</em> yet, wait on this one until you have.)
Which leads us to <em>The Turin Horse</em>, along with the reasons that (a) Tarr is retiring and (b) this is actually an apocalyptic sci-fi flick: Béla Tarr destroys the world.
This is not a spoiler, or at best it is only a minor one, since we find out quite early on, in a scene almost every review of the film I'd had a chance to read before seeing it focuses on: Bernhard (Mihály Kormos, a Tarr regular, as are all the principals in the movie)'s visit on the second day because he's run out of alcohol. Asked why he didn't just go into town to buy some, he tells us the town has gone to ruin. This is the beginning of a five-minute monologue about the metaphorical destruction of the Earth from a Marxist perspective ("man acquires and destroys, or man destroys and acquires..."), which may throw you off a bit, but remember: the town has gone to ruin. Bernhard came to tap Ohlsdorfer (János Derzsi)'s dwindling stash because <em>he can't get any in town</em>. Outside MacKendrick's <em>Tight Little Island</em>, has that ever happened before? Anywhere? It points to the rest of Bernhard's speech being metaphorical, but that statement being absolutely literal. The town no longer exists. It has been destroyed. In fact, the world, with the exception of a few wanderers like Bernhard, now has its boundary at the tree that can be seen through the farmhouse window. There <em>was</em> a world there before the first day; the opening shot of the film, so quintessentially Tarr, shows Ohlsdorfer riding his cart, drawn by the title character, down the road to the farm. At that point, the wind is getting up a bit, maybe there's a little creeping fog, but by the time we get the "the first day" title card, we're in the middle of Stephen King's <em>The Mist</em> combined with Victor Sjöstrom's <em>The Wind</em>. We even get monsters from the former and crazy from the latter, both during the third day. Going into that <em>would</em> be a (minor) spoiler, but I will remind the reader that Tarr's films have always had the same structure of deep, lethargic slowness punctuated by a moment of shocking violence (the murders at the beginning of <em>The Man from London</em> and the middle of <em>Satantango</em>, the riot at the end of <em>Wreckmeister Harmonies</em>); here Tarr returns to making the violence the dead-center shot of the film, but the violence in question is not nearly as theatrical, or for that matter as violent, as in any of the previous films mentioned. It's actually quite pathetic, in every sense of the word, which serves to underscore the pathetic existence shared by Ohlsdorfer, his daughter (Erika Bók), and the horse (who, the credits tell us, is named Ricsi).
And yet those who are willing to devote to the film the concentration that it deserves will note that while the family's existence is a mindless haze of numbing repetition, Tarr's depiction of it is anything but. Consider mealtime during the first two days. The daughter dips water (which she has brought from the well each morning, another series of scenes that illustrate this nicely) from the large bucket on the back of the stove into a pot containing two potatoes. They cook. She gets the wooden plates, the serving bowl, and the salt cellar from the cupboard and lays them out. The potatoes go into the bowl. "Kész.", she says. ("It's ready.") They go to the table. They eat, about half the potato each time, with the leavings scraped after the meal. The actions themselves are the same. On the first day, the camera is sitting just over the daughter's shoulder, and we focus on Ohlsdorfer, who is old and has lost the use of his right arm (a stroke, one assumes, or perhaps the horse kicked him at some point). Ohlsdorfer is not a patient guy. (This is important later.) He burns himself peeling the potato, he flings salt onto the plate, he wolfs down piece after piece, then thrusts himself from the table--as much as a guy with the use of only one arm <em>can</em> thrust--and stalks off, leaving his daughter to clean up, after she's done; it takes her about twice as long to eat her potato bits as it does Ohlsdorfer. The second day, the camera is behind, and a bit to the side of, Ohlsdorfer, and we focus on his daughter. We see that she is slower, more deliberate. She does not use salt. (In a film where everything is pregnant with meaning, I have a perverse urge to pontificate this was simply the actress' preference rather than Tarr and co-conspirator László Krasznahorkai making a comment about the daughter's personality.) She blows on each piece of potato. If these people were affluent enough to be able to afford utensils, you get the idea Ohlsdorfer would still go about burning his hands, while his daughter would at least have mastered the use of knife and fork. We hear Ohlsdorfer eat, but aside from a few arm movements, we don't see him. We see only her.
This may seem a small thing, but it is synecdochic of the way Tarr and cinematographer Fred Kelemen (the director of <em>Krisana</em>) gradually reveal the little universe of this film. We suspect the cupboard exists--those plates have to go somewhere--but we don't actually see it until the third day. The spatial relationship between the house, the barn, and the well also comes into focus on the third day; for all we knew before then, the barn was off on another planet, for all that it featured in shots. This is one of the things in the film that really holds our interest as viewers, that we continue on for the first two hours of this two-and-a-half hour film continually discovering things about the scenery. Which is pretty impressive given that the scenery is all but unremarkable save where it is destroyed (more on this in a bit). Tarr is creating something out of not nothing, but very little, and he's doing it successfully.
Where so many other reviews focused on the Bernhard visit, I'm actually coming to a point with these last few paragraphs, what is to me the central scene of the film, the most important one, which takes place on the fifth day. This is not the climax--were it possible to think of a film this flat having a climax at all, one would have to place that at the moment of violence that sits in the middle of the film--but it is by far the most important scene, the one where everything crystallizes in your head (or should, if you're paying attention). Each day, part of the routine is dealing with the horse. There is stall-mucking, giving him hay, trying to get the recalcitrant beast to move. Now, in that very first shot, it should be obvious this horse is in a bad way. He's malnourished (but then, this is a symptom of life; everyone in the film save Bernhard is malnourished), somewhat flea-bitten, mangy. He does not look good. Each day, he spirals downward a little. (Again, this is not a spoiler; every plot summary focuses on Ohlsdorfer coming to terms with, as IMDB puts it, "the mortality of his faithful horse.") Every day, we get the horse maintenance from a different angle, giving us more information. (This is not isolated. On day three, one of the exterior shots shows us, for the first time, that the barn wall has a huge hole in it. On the fourth day, after the barn door is closed, we linger in the barn, with the horse, the only light coming from that hole.) Day five: the "horse" shot happens after the daughter closes the door. We linger on the barn door. Not the whole door, just a piece; this is a close-up. Even the dimmest of filmgoers realizes what this symbolizes. And yet there's Schrodinger's tiny cat sitting there on your frontal lobe asking "is the damn horse <em>really</em> dead?" It ended up being as tense a moment as any I'd experienced in a theater in years. At the risk of sounding, well, snobbish (I am, and I'm unapologetic about it), that's the great payoff for paying attention to the smallest details in a movie. When you're at the mercy of a master director, even sitting there staring at a piece of a barn door for three minutes can become a pitch-perfect exercise in tension.
(As an aside, there was a great station identification-style reel that played before movies at the arthouse in Philly where I was first introduced to, among others, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Charlie Chaplin back in the early nineties. It started off with a spoof trailer for an Eastern European art film called <em>Look at My Potato</em>. It was hilarious. There are those who would have you believe <em>The Turin Horse</em> is the ultimate realization of <em>Look at My Potato</em>. And if you're not the kind of filmgoer who catches on to those little details, and realizes what Tarr and Krasznahorkai and Kalman are doing here, then I can kind of see their point. Which is not the same as saying those people are <em>right</em>; they have just never been properly educated in the art of watching films. Like any other discipline, be it poetry, carpentry, steak, whatever, any beginner can take a whack at creating it, and anyone can consume it. In poetry, there's the doggerel that you find in <em>Reader's Digest</em> compared to, say, Longfellow. Carpentry? Your dad building you a backyard fort is awesome, but unless your dad was Frank Lloyd Wright, it's not really going to compare to Taliesin West. And any fool can toss a steak in a frying pan and make a piece of shoe leather, but it takes true artistry to craft a perfect filet, and a discerning palate that has developed a taste for its proper accompaniments to really enjoy it. My point being: <em>The Turin Horse</em>, like every other film Béla Tarr has made, is emphatically not for beginners.)
Another aside: for the record, you're reading about a tenth of what I originally wrote. There is so much to be said about this film that a shot-by-shot-style book (a la Geoff Dyer's excellent <em>Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room</em>) would be warranted simply to review the thing. I can point to things about the movie and say "<em>this</em> is what makes this movie great," but thing 1 intertwines with thing 2 intertwines with thing 3 intertwines with...and then we load on all the personal baggage (I could go on for pages about the blasted, haggard beauty of Erika Bók in this film and how much she reminds me of two other women and what they mean to me... and actually I did, but you're not going to be reading that bit because I'm saving it for <em>Kész.: A Book About a Film About the End of the World</em>), just like the shots gradually reveal the landscape in the film, and then use that landscape to great effect in the next scene (a la the hole in the barn wall), and it <em>all</em> deserves not only mention, but scrutiny. In most cases, I, or any reviewer, can tell you why you should see, or not see, a movie based on a few factors; Howard Hawks' infamous "a great movie is three good scenes and no bad ones" line in critical form. With the great movies, most of them anyway, that is not possible; everything works with everything else in order to create the experience. <em>Jeux Interdits</em> is an obvious example to me because I saw it only a few weeks ago. <em>The Fisher King</em> is like that, as well, and <em>Solaris</em> kind of goes without saying (even if the car ride to the spaceport stands out). You'll have movies like that in your head--think of favorite films you have, but favorite films where there isn't an iconic scene that springs immediately to mind, where the movie made that much of an impression on you because <em>the whole thing</em> is iconic. That's what I'm trying to depict here. That is <em>The Turin Horse</em>, in the same way that it is <em>Satantango</em>. It's a two-and-a-half hour film that feels half that length, because it's that compelling even though not a damn thing is going on most of the time. (That said, those reviewers that say Bernhard's visit is the <em>only</em> action in the movie seem to have somehow missed day three altogether.)
I did say, way back at the beginning of this review that I started writing days ago, that the movie wasn't perfect in the same way as is <em>Werckmeister</em> or <em>Satantango</em>. I also rushed to qualify that the problem is minor, and to be fair I am almost--almost!--willing to excuse the problem because of the piece that balances it. But not quite. The problem lies in Mihály Vig's score, and when I say "score" here, let me not suggest that someone is ever going to release a <em>Turin Horse: The Original Soundtrack</em> album. There are two composed pieces in this film. One of them is so subtle I'm guessing very few people without my rather eclectic (read: no one in their right minds would study this stuff) musical training would even notice it. The second is the piece of music you hear in the trailer. And that first time you hear it, in that long, long first shot (the first thirty seconds or so of which is the beginning of the trailer), it's majestic and somber and, well, let's face it, there's a reason I used the term "soul-crushing despair". And then the second time you hear it, you're thinking, "okay, there's an echo of the opening here", maybe, even though there isn't. An hour into the film, you're wondering if it's the only piece of music Vig wrote for the movie; an hour and a half after <em>that</em>, when it plays yet again over the closing credits, you know it will be the soundtrack to your nightmares that night.
Not a problem but perhaps an indulgence (and one I did not take points off for): the final three shots of this film could have all put an equal stamp of finality on Tarr's illustrious career. (In other words, warning: heavier material than usual ahead.) They could have been mixed up in any order and still would have had the same effect. It's like the end of a career with a double underline. I note this not to say it's a bad thing, but just to note it.
In sum: I had a chance, a few minutes after <em>The Turin Horse</em> finished playing, to see <em>Surviving Life</em>, the latest (as I write this) Jan Svankmajer film. I revere Svankmajer. <em>Otesánek</em> is at #50 on my top 1000, <em>Alice</em> at #123. I may never again have the chance to see <em>Surviving Life</em> on the big screen, and I had planned on staying. But when I walked out of the theater, I simply got into my car and drove home. I could not even fathom the idea of trying to process another movie so soon after the experience that was <em>The Turin Horse</em>. And I can't imagine a film commanding a better recommendation than that. **** ˝
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The power of interpretation through film,
In this day and age of digital cinematography, it is a breath of fresh air to see that there are still films being made that create the illusion and imagery based on a natural setting and the actors playing a part within that setting. Director Béla Tarr shows the natural effects of a barren landscape and the emotions that each character in the film the Turin Horse, which automatically conjures similarities to legendary film director Ingmar Bergman because of the emphasis of the moving characters that speak very little in spite of the subtitles that are interspersed throughout the film and trademark cinematography of light and dark shadows.
The Turin Horse is based on Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's account of a horse in distress and attempted to rescue it from its uncompromising situation. The horse was released but it remains a mystery to what happened thereafter. Tarr picks up where Nietzsche left off through a creative lens, the film centers upon a father Ohlsdorfer (Janos Derzsi) and daughter (Erika Bók) and the horse (Ricsi) that pulls their cart to maintain their livelihood. The production of the film is extremely effective without a soundtrack but merely the actors playing their part in repetitious scenes and the camera focusing on the horse with much distant and up front close-ups. Without constant dialogue, the silence and the actions of each character speaks much more to the viewer; lends itself to various interpretations but one that resonates the most, eternal light in a world of darkness. There are also subtle suggestions in the film that evokes a tone of religious and philosophical contemplation, living off the land and self-reliance. And also, a historic theme of past and present is shown with the characters and their attempt to leave the horse behind, somewhat ironic and heart wrenching.
One can be amazed by watching the film and to realize that it was released in 2011. There is no denying the parallels to the Bergman film legacy, and if Béla Tarr intended to emulate Bergman, he does an exceptional job. Film aficionados that have not yet experienced this film, it is indeed highly recommended. And one word may describe its powerful message, humanity.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Turin Horse [Blu-ray] by Agnes Hranitzky (Blu-ray - 2012)