The Turin Horse


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Turin Horse
"This is a film where the absence of action is the point, as it plays out like a joke-shorn version of Beckett's Waiting For Godot."

Time is of the essence in Béla Tarr's latest (and possibly last) film. He is determined we should feel the inexorable tick of the clock of humanity as it edges towards his own brand of downbeat apocalypse - or, perhaps more precisely, an anti-genesis. Existentialism, the death of God and a general sense of nihilism were very much Friedrich Nietzche's bag, so it seems only appropriate that Tarr begins his tale with a story concerning him and the whipping of a cab driver's horse, which led, we are told, to Nietzsche becoming sick and never speaking again.

"Of the horse, we know nothing" observes an unnamed narrator. Tarr sets about changing all of that, taking us on the horse's journey and detailing the travails of its owners. Filled with bleak but beautiful black and white visuals, he creates a world so vivid and so carefully paced in terms of time, that we smell the sweat on the horse, hear the wind as it rakes the thin frame of the daughter of its owner and feel the burning heat of a boiled potato on fingertips as it is eaten in a hungry haste. Mihály Vig's scoring mirrors the repetitive insistence of the action, pounding relentlessly on as the film's central pair face a future that is both the same as it has always been and yet totally unfamiliar.

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Ohlsdorfer (Janos Derzsi) and his daughter (Erika Bok) live in a house that's close to being a hovel, eking out an existence which has, until this point, clearly relied heavily on the horse of the title. Now, with the animal sick, they continue with the rest of their routine - the absolute basics of human life - with little time or inclination for talk. Tarr immerses us in their crumbling universe and the machinations of their daily grind. While we feel the hours pass by there is paradoxically no real sense of time, just an existence of repetition in which change is almost certainly not a good thing.

This is a film where the absence of action is the point, as it plays out like a joke-shorn version of Beckett's Waiting For Godot. Those who can't buy in to the long takes, frequently static camerawork and repetetive style, will struggle to stay fidget-free. Yet, if you are willing to fall into Tarr's deliberate rhythm, there is a beauty to his story and, like Beckett, even a glimmer of hope to be found in the persistence of routine even in the darkest circumstances. Everything here has texture and flicker, from the stable door where the horse is locked to the house's flickering oven and the faces of its near-silent protagonists. When interludes come, they enter with a disturbing noisiness and lord of misrule dimension, setting the austerity of its central characters into sharp relief.

What is interesting to consider - and Tarr certainly gives us plenty of time to turn our attention to it - is the way history is told by its writers and how signifcant the horse is to these two downtrodden spots of humanity whereas, in contrast, philosphical statements about this and that are utterly redundant, when all you really care about is where your next potato is coming from.

This is the sort of film that many people will leave within the first 20 minutes, which is a shame but not exactly unfamiliar territory for Tarr. If you have the patience to embrace the rhythm of Turin Horse and its rewards, then you might want to have a kitten or small family member on stand-by at home afterwards, so that you can hug them. You'll need it.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2011
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This Berlinale 2011 Silver Bear winner is rumoured to be the swansong from the Hungarian master.
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Chris ****1/2

Director: Béla Tarr

Writer: László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr

Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos

Year: 2010

Runtime: 146 minutes

Country: Hungary, France, Germany, Switzerland, United States of America

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