The Turin Horse

12 Dec

At the beginning of Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr’s latest and supposedly last film The Turin Horse, a narrator introduces the ‘story’ by recounting a tale of Friedrich Nietzsche witnessing a horse being whipped by a cab driver. Nietzsche, we are told, put his arms around the horse and wept before uttering his last words two days later though he lived for another ten years. What happened to the horse? Well that’s what The Turin Horse and it’s 146 minute runtime concerns itself with.

Featuring Tarr’s trademark black-and-white photography, static camerawork and long takes, The Turin Horse is undeniably a work of art. In the stunning opening sequence a tracking shot follows a dishevelled horse (with its owner – the cab driver – in tow) trotting through an eerie, atmospheric woodland path accompanied by music so haunting it could be used to soundtrack the works of Nietzsche himself. Then begins the lyrical depiction of a week in the life of the elderly cab driver, his doting daughter and the horse. Beginning at the end of the opening sequence, the howl of an increasingly violent wind soundtracks the film and prevents the inhabitants of the dilapidated abode from leaving.

They go about their monotonous routine day after day after day, their visage looking increasingly weary with life. The Turin Horse is a fable on the struggle that life – from the smallest microbe to the largest mammal – undergoes everyday just to survive, even if living is platitudinous. Tarr’s biblical swansong is set in a world that’s antithetic to the Biblical story of creation. Constantly reminding us of Nietzsche’s bold statement that God is dead, this world depicts what can only be described as the seven days of destruction.

Unfortunately, The Turin Horse is a prime example of so-called ‘slow cinema’ and the sheer tedium of the subject matter can be jarring. Confounding the problem is the fact that the characters are merely observed with no time dedicated to giving us something to connect with them. This lack of depth means we are indifferent to their fate so the film fails to elicit any emotional response whatsoever out of its audience except boredom.

The photographic beauty of The Turin Horse does little to alleviate the doleful heaviness of the overall package that will surely make even the most serious cinéaste weary. If the Hungarian master’s final film has affected me at all it has only made me question what I want from cinema – art or entertainment? Whatever it is I desire, it certainly isn’t this.

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