The Turin Horse Reviews
The idea with The Turin Horse, co-directed by Agnes Hranitzszky, is that Frederich Nietzche saved a horse from being whipped in a town square in the late 19th century, and the horse was removed from its owner and given to another. Tarr could have filmed that sequence - which happened in real life, and further sounds to me like the dream sequence from Crime & Punishment involving a whipped horse, certainly from the opening narration a very cinematic and dramatic turn of events - but he chooses to go right into the story of this old farmer bringing the horse to his tiny not-much-of-a-farm with his daughter, and watch over the course of five/six days their downfall.
The thing you should know going into this, if you haven't seen Tarr before, is that he does long takes. All the time. Maybe the shortest shot in this runtime is about 4 minutes. It's certainly not easy to pull this off, everything has to be choreographed and timed just right, and that is certainly a testament to Fred Kinemen's cinematography. For me, actually, if it's anyone's masterpiece it's Kinemen's, who in black and white and usually in a camera that moves, gets the dust and wind and darkness and despair down just right visually speaking. There are many shots in the film, like the one where the farmer and his daughter, in the one sort of moment of story "progression", tries to get away from the farm to somewhere else, and the camera shows them off on the hillside, with a dead, lonely tree up top, and the wind blowing in the foreground. That's great.
But why then say that this movie makes me feel 'stupid'. Well, I just didn't 'get' it, I guess. Perhaps there's something to be said for this being some sort of transcendental experience or other, that what the movie is pretty much 'about' - watching the pitiless routines of cooking food, fetching water from a well, trying to make a horse eat, putting on clothes - is supposed to make us hypnotized. The sort of real-time, meditative, sort of deadpan and minimalist filmmaking of Satantango had that too, as I'm sure Tarr's other films do, but there was more going on there, more to actual see and note in the characters. Maybe that's part of the point, that this farmer and his daughter, without any electricity or books (well, until a gypsey happens to give one to her, not a long story, they happen by the house in one of the only times other humans interact with them) or any curiosity past living from one day to the next, have made this life and eventual death for themselves. And I can be mesmerized watching routine; Jeanne Dielman is one of the highlights of 1970's French cinema.
So what's missing here? Is it missing in myself to not meet the material more than halfway? I don't know. There may be something that Nietzsche is used as this catalyst for the story at all - that there's something to these lives 'Between Good and Evil', or to his philosophy expressed here. Maybe it's about how the breakdown of the world is meant to be comparable to Tarr seeing the breakdown of cinema, with himself leaving the medium (at least for the time being). And to be fair, as more 'things' happen to this father and daughter, I started to get more intrigued. I wanted to meet the film more than halfway, as this director is the epitome of uncompromising, dead-serious art house filmmakers. And there's just enough for me to recommend it to die-hard admirers of this sort of rigorous filmmaking with maybe like 50 shots in the whole run time. I simply wish there had been a sliver more 'there' there in terms of these two people, despite that being the point of the nothingness of existence and so on.
Stark. B&W. The same long track throughout most of the movie where one doesn't find the and howling. Lots of long shots. I don't remember one montage, or even a cut within minutes.
The opening scene is without equal. The first few minutes tracking the horse is outstandingly beautiful.
By the end I have so many questions and feel half terrified and half enervated.
What did they see, or what occurred, when they turned back?
What does the horse symbolize? Their connection to the world/ their reliance and oneness with it/their fate? Disapproval?
Why the gypsies?
The book? What is she reading? It sounded like nonsense.
Who gives the bizarre speech in the middle of the film? (Everything is destroyed via King Midas effect. The noble is gone.) To what effect?
Is it apocalyptic?