The Turin Horse/A Torinói ló

 

Directed by Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos Club, IFI, Dublin, 146 min

IN A REMOTE windswept location, an old man and his daughter live a life composed of simple rituals. Every morning she fetches water from the well. She cooks two potatoes, one for herself and one for her father. She tends to the fire. They both take turns gazing mournfully through the window at the unending gales outside.

The slow rhythms that define their lives are being eroded and undermined in small, barely perceptible ways. The family horse, a shaggy beast in the style of Balthazar, is refusing food. The woodworm have ceased their nightly commotion inside the walls. More ominously, a group of gypsies arrives and attempts to lure the girl away with promises of a voyage to America. The man chases them but not before they curse his land and gift the girl a strange, cod-Nietzschean text.

The situation worsens. The man rages against his predicament, ordering his daughter to pack up their meagre possessions: “We’re not staying here,” he roars. We know, however, that nobody ever gets out of the Tarr pits.

An appositely solemn prologue ushers in Hungarian master Béla Tarr’s latest, and reportedly final film: “On January 3rd, 1889 in Turin, Italy, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, a cab driver is having trouble with a stubborn horse. The horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. After this, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan, until he loses consciousness and his mind.”

Tarr’s regular screenwriter, László Krasznahorkai, first related the (possibly apocryphal) tale of Nietzsche’s final breakdown during the 1980s. His initial response – “What happened to the horse?” – forms the spine of this paean to what the film-maker calls “the heaviness of human existence”.

Tauter and more accessible than (the seven-hour-plus) Satan’s Tango and Werckmeister Harmonies,

The Turin Horse incorporates an awareness of encroaching mortality and the stateliness of late Ozu or Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes into a feverishly oppressive microcosm. An eerie sound design that foregrounds eating noises and creaks recalls Jan Svankmajer’s creepier animations. The composition, comprising Fred Kelemen’s 30 long takes, is memorably austere. Mihály Víg’s score, a whirling cello carnival that chimes perfectly with the howling, omnipresent wind, is the best you’ll hear this year.

Don’t miss this two-and-half hour allegorical meditation on death. No, really.

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