Turin Horse, The (2011)


Director:  Bela Tarr
Cast:  János DerzsiErika BókMihály Kormos
Plot:  A rural farmer is forced to confront the mortality of his faithful horse.

Genre:  Drama

Awards:  Won Jury Grand Prix and FIPRESCI Prize (Berlin).
Runtime:  146min
Rating:  PG13


“Theirs is the moment... nature, infinite silence.”

The Turin Horse can be aptly described in three words: a beautiful ordeal.  Bela Tarr's final work (or so he proclaims) is every moviegoer's nightmare – it is incredibly slow, incredibly meandering and incredibly long.  It runs for about 2.5 hours, but it feels like a few days, really. 

Endurance is the key, and if you like arthouse films with no plot, it might just be barely bearable for you as it was for me.  Well, almost.  Tarr's work focuses on just two characters - an old farmer and his faithful daughter as they live in an isolated region that is incredibly windy.  I presume it was shot in Hungary as this is a Hungarian picture, but it sure is one hell of a windy place.

Like I mentioned earlier, there is no plot in The Turin Horse.  We see six continuous days of the duo engaging in mundane (but not necessarily uninteresting) activities like waking up, fetching water from a nearby well, cooking boiled potatoes (which is all they eat), sitting around and staring out of the window. 

They try to get their horse to pull their wooden cart to get to town, but to no avail.  Tarr shot the entire film with only thirty long takes, and dialogue is so sparse throughout that it is only after twenty minutes that someone realizes that he has a throat. 

Tarr describes his film as one that is about “the heaviness of human existence”.  He succeeds in showing this in The Turin Horse, which is a powerfully bleak parable, if only it was more entertaining. 

It is still engaging in a visual way, with some of the best cinematographic work I have seen in recent years.  The steadicam work is extraordinary and coupled with the hypnotic, almost funereal-like music by Mihaly Vig (Tarr’s long-time collaborator), the film occasionally transcends its seeming endlessness by focusing our attention to the dark beauty of its world. 

One of the great Eastern European filmmakers of our time, Tarr’s work here is superb from an auteuristic perspective, a tour de force in art filmmaking.  But it is challenging to sit through.  You need the mental endurance to last the lap.  And like the film’s characters whose struggle to survive is a testament to their capacity for endurance, we may be compelled to endure along with them too.  I hope.

Verdict:  This gorgeously shot black-and-white film can be a bitter pill to swallow with its meandering long takes, sparse dialogue and perpetual bleakness.

GRADE:  B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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