Directed by: Bela Tarr
Produced by: Gabor Teni
Screenplay by: Bela Tarr
Starring: Janos Derzsi
Music by: Mihaly Vig
Cinematography by: Fred Kelemen
Editing by: Agnes Hranitzky
Studio: T.T. Filmmuhely
Distributed by: Cirko Film
Release date(s): February 15, 2011 (Berlin Film Festival)
March 31, 2011 (Hungary)
October 13, 2011 (New York Film Festival)
June 1, 2012 (United Kingdom and Ireland)
Running time: 146 minutes
Production budget: (Not available)
Box office revenue (domestic gross only): $50, 975
Well, a few days off won't kill anyone, now will it? Anywho, it's batten down the hatches time over here in East Belfast. Our fantastic local climate has decided that early-summer now means monsoon season. We've got sandbags on our front door now, as we got close to flooding last night. As every day goes by, I more and more start to believe Terence McKenna. However, I have seen The Dictator, and also hope to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Rock Of Ages, The Avengers (will I ever?), Rogue River and Chill at some point, so keep your bloody eyes posted (assuming, of course, you've had a pencil rammed into one or both of your eyes)!
Rightio, what we've got here is The Turin Horse, the latest (and billed as last) film from Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr. One of the few genuinely daring filmmakers in existence, films such as Damnation and Werckmeister Harmonies confront, through the medium of cinema, human nature and existence. In that vein, he's probably the most appropriate director to assume the controls of this story. Debuting at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, The Turin Horse is based on the oft-repeated tale (which may or may not be fictitious) that Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the flogging of a horse, which is purported to have led to his mental breakdown. "Of the horse... we know nothing" ends the opening monologue. From this point we follow the immediate aftermath of this event and the lives of the horse, its owner and hansom cab driver, and his daughter. That's all the exposition you need, and it's all you'd get, as I can't say much more full stop!
Starting with the good of The Turin Horse, I must mention director Tarr. He is a director in the vein of Terrence Malick, in that he follows his artistic intent with absolutely no compromise. Making no bones about the sheer uncommercial nature of his work, he deconstructs what is on the level a very simple story and injects it full of depth and complexity. Also, he displays the most control as a director I have seen since The Tree Of Life. The fact that The Turin Horse is such a singularly made film, which follows through with convincing strength of intent is down to the meticulousness decisiveness of his direction. Also to be credited is the cinematographer Fred Kelemen. It's one thing being able to set up a long-shot, but it's another being able to do it. Composed of thirty takes, The Turin Horse looks like a series of beautiful moving paintings thanks to his camerawork. Like his director, he exhibits great control, and there is something to be said about the movement of the camera. His viewfinder becomes an additional character in the film, as we observe these characters and the monotony of their lives. We go beyond the level of voyeurism and into active participation in the story. Also, when things recur in the story, they are shot from different angles, so it's not (too) monotonous, and most the story is told in a wise, visual manner. Complementing this is the score (if it can be called that) by Mihaly Vig. Consisting of one recurring four-minute piece of music, it induces a feeling of tension and nausea upon its appearance in the film. The slow string instruments create a horrible noise, and there's a keyboard motif which has a genuinely demented carny theme to it. This piece recurs what feels like fifty times, and it gets to the point where even in the silent moments, you're unsure if you're not just convincing yourself that you hear the music. Agnes Hranitzky's editing of the film, more so in conjunction with sound than image, is handled well. Obviously, the score is non-diegetic, but there is a sharp, jolting transition (particularly when cutting from end-of-shot to start-of-shot) between the non-diegetic score and the sound of the film's diegesis. The acting must be credited, for it is so subtle and naturalistic that one might have a tendency to glance over it. Janos Derszi and Erika Bok perfectly encapsulate their characters. The way they interact has an honesty and truth about it, and you legitimately buy them as a father and daughter. Derszi's father has an extreme level of underlying tension and anger about him, and his stiff, jolted movements, accentuated by the fact that his character is physically disabled, suggest towards the untamed animal-in-man. Also, Bok presents a purity and instinctive intelligence, although her acting suggests that so much is left unsaid, and that she understands the futility of her awareness of their circumstances. Around half-way through, Mihaly Kormos comes in and delivers a terrific monologue, which like most of the film, gets to the heart of Nietzsche's philosophical concepts and humanity's own part in their ultimate destruction. However, without sounding too po-faced, it comes across as general conversation, thanks to Kormos and Laszlo Krasznahorkai's excellent dialogue. At risk of sounding silly, credit where credit is due, Ricsi The Horse is great. Notwithstanding the fact that they couldn't have got a more decrepit looking horse, if it is possible for a horse to intelligently underact, then it certainly done so. The fact that it never reacts and seems to have a genuine absence/indifference of feeling is indicative Nietzschean ideas of godlessness. It is a literal manifestation of everything the film is trying to get at, what Tarr calls "the heaviness of human existence," and the bestial savagery of the universe.
The Turin Horse is in no uncertain terms an excellent film. However, there is a minor quibble, one that does not bother me much at all, but must be flagged up. Tarr is a challenging filmmaker, this is unquestionably his most challenging film. Now I loved that, but I went to see it with a friend who was really troubled by the film. An open-minded chap, he didn't like it for all the reasons I did like it (which just made me like it all the more!). The Turin Horse is a rare occurrence of marmite in cinema, a film that pushes the boundaries of the medium so much that it will genuinely divide people. Also, I can't help but think whether or not the film could have achieved its goals with a shorter running time. Still, it works with the purpose it tries to achieve.
It's no secret from the tone of this review what I thought of the film. In nearly all respects, I find myself defending it and arguing it as a legitimate work of art. Completely mesmerising, strangely inviting and utterly full of dread, The Turin Horse is a singularly powerful masterpiece. Every little piece of this large puzzle is slotted together to make an extraordinary jigsaw, all held together by puppet-master/filmmaker Bela Tarr. Even with regards to the running time, I will argue in its favour. I went to the toilet twice during Prometheus, but didn't budge at all during The Turin Horse, and while the credits rolled, I felt I could have sat there another hour. Majestic cinema of the purest form and the highest caliber.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.6/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very well (a pleasure to review such a film and have such passion towards a work of art)