Combustible Celluloid
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With: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos, Ricsi
Written by: Béla Tarr, László Krasznahorkai
Directed by: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Hungarian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 146
Date: 02/14/2011

The Turin Horse (2012)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Mane Event

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The good news is that a new Bela Tarr movie is here. The bad news is that Tarr, who is easily one of the greatest filmmakers alive today -- and perhaps of all time -- has announced that The Turin Horse will be his last. Watching the movie only deepens this sad news. Tarr's unique, spiritual, thoughtful vision ranks him with the likes of Dreyer, Bresson, and Kubrick. What's more, one could transport any of Tarr's last five films, made over the past 30 years, to any other time, and they would still feel current -- and timeless.

The Turin Horse ostensibly takes place in 1889. A spoken introduction tells the story of how Friedrich Nietzsche tried to stop the whipping of a horse while visiting Turin, Italy. The movie follows an old farmer (János Derzsi), who lives with his grown daughter (Erika Bók), on a simple farm. The farmer is the owner of the horse, an old, tired creature used to haul things in a wooden cart. As the story begins, the farmer and the horse make their way home as a bone-chilling windstorm descends upon them.

Over the course of several days, the farmer and daughter try to wait out the storm. Tarr shows their daily routines. The farmer has a dead right arm, so the daughter must perform the more complicated tasks, such as getting him dressed, fetching water from the well and cooking their daily meal of a single potato each. (The farmer greedily plucks at the skin, smashes it, pushes gobs of it into his mouth, and then pushes away the plate, half-finished.)

The soundtrack consists of howling wind, and the occasional thrum of mournful, repeating violins. Each day things grow slightly worse. Gypsies descend upon their property, their well dries up, and it grows mysteriously dark. All the time, the horse stands motionless in its stall, not eating, not drinking, presumably ready to give up the ghost.

What does it all mean? It could be yet another end-of-the-world movie (there are a lot of them lately -- I wonder if that means anything?), or it could just be a depiction of the repetitive and mundane nature of everyday life. Most movies do the exact opposite, cutting out any scene of everyday life if it doesn't specifically function to forward the plot. Tarr knows that there is great poetry and truth in the way a man eats a potato, or the way father and daughter take turns looking out the window. And in a way, it's more personal to an audience than a car chase scene; we've all eaten potatoes, but very few of us have participated in a real-life car chase.

However, The Turin Horse is arguably the most downbeat of the four Tarr films I've seen, which is no small achievement. Satantango had the novelty of being 7 hours long, Werckmeister Harmonies had great moments of awe-inspiring beauty and wonder, and The Man from London was based on an actual mystery novel. The Turin Horse lacks any of that kind of appeal. The only possible thing that could get people to see this movie is curiosity or familiarity with its extraordinary maker.

But once they do it becomes fairly clear that Tarr is one of a kind. I only hope that Tarr -- who is only 56 -- gets bored during his retirement and decides to come back to us.

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