Hungarian director Bela Tarr has made what he claims will be his last film. The Turin Horse haunts the mind with its eerie soundtrack and striking imagery, depicting the hardships of everyday life, and the inevitability of death and decay.
The story of The Turin Horse is inspired by a true event which took place in the life of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. On January 3rd 1889, Nietzsche suffered a total mental collapse after witnessing a horse being beaten by its owner; after throwing his arms around the horse to try to protect it, the philosopher collapsed to the ground. He never really recovered from this episode, dying in 1900 following a long, slow decline. Tarr’s film is a fictionalised account of what happened to the horse. In the film, the horse belongs to Ohlsdorfer (Janos Derzsi), a poor farmer, and his daughter (Erika Bok). The horse is faithful but old, and can no longer perform its duties. The farmer and his daughter depend on the horse for their livelihood, and as it slowly dies they must come to terms with the disintegration of their entire world.
Tarr is known for his epically slow-moving depictions of everyday life battered by sudden change, and for his extremely minimalist editing (The Turin Horse is 146 minutes long, and is made up of only 30 takes). Real life isn’t edited for ease of viewing, and real life is what Tarr is attempting to capture with his films – or at least, his own starkly monochrome vision of what real life is. There are no short cuts in The Turin Horse. Potatoes are boiled and eaten in close to real time; stables are mucked out, water is drawn from wells, and roads are trudged along slowly and methodically.
In fact, a recurring motif in Tarr’s work has been nicknamed the Bela Tarr Trudge. Characters are seen to spend large amounts of time laboriously walking from one place to another, again without the respite of cuts. The Turin Horse is essentially one long trudge, with Ohlsdorfer, his daughter, and their long-suffering horse dragging themselves through their daily grind over and over again, all while being battered by an icy and unforgiving wind. In their isolated farmhouse, they receive only snatches of news from the odd visitor, but the sense of an oncoming doom is palpable.
Like the rest of Tarr’s work, The Turin Horse is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. Watching it is not what you would call an enjoyable experience; more mind-blowing. Tarr’s work gives the lasting effect of the mind having been hit by a car, with the viewer wandering around in a shell-shocked daze for some time after. In creating this haunting atmosphere, the director is aided by long-time members of his filmmaking team, writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai, co-director Agnes Hranitzky (also his partner) and composer Mihaly Vig, whose eerie orchestral soundtrack is always a stand-out feature of Tarr’s work.
Tarr has said that The Turin Horse will be his last film, giving no real reason other than he has already said all that he wants to say with his work – and that he plans to found a film school in Croatia. We have no reason not to believe that this will be his last cinematic work; for his entire filmmaking career, Bela Tarr has ignored all widely accepted narrative techniques without blinking an eye, or paying the least bit of attention to popular opinion. If he says he’s made his last film, then he probably has.
Best Scene: The horse’s final scene