‘The Turin Horse’ is a bleak and glorious swan song for Bela Tarr

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The Turin Horse
Directed by Bela Tarr
Written by László Krasznahorkai
Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/USA, 2011

A horse drags its owner through the harsh and biting cold, almost as if the two will never reach their destination. The film’s score immediately informs the viewer that the proceedings will be a tough slog, unforgiving in nature. The Turin Horse is apparently Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr’s last film, and if that is so, it’s quite the swan song for a director so revered for his cold and concise aesthetic. Tarr’s knack for crafting such daunting and uncompromising physical settings shouldn’t be taken for granted, as the barren world featured in this film is prominent in distilling a daunting bubble of hopelessness.  No complaints here, this is a film of such weight and brutal intimacy, banality in the face of the apocalypse. Tarr makes the viewer work for the answers as they’re portrayed through the literal daily grind of an aging man, his daughter, and their horse.

The father/daughter go through the same insipid tasks each day, in some order, the daughter fetches water, dresses her father, the pair eat boiled potatoes without utensils, and they sit and stare out their window at the decaying and unforgiving landscape that seems endless in peril, yet limited in its boundaries. Outside of their normal routine, there is little room for surprise, except when a neighbor stops by mid-film spouting apocalyptic ballyhoo, to which the father denounces as “rubbish.” A band of gypsies also approach the house, causing an eerie and penetrating exchange with the daughter as they try to steal water. It’s these small occurrences that lay the groundwork for the film’s stance on life with or without a true meaning or purpose. The only thing we truly believe in is the struggle for this father and daughter to eat and drink each day, as the outside wind grows more violent by the minute. The situation turns dire when the horse refuses to eat or work, thrusting the family into poignant desperation.

The Turin Horse boasts such a repetitive nature, futility caught in a bubble. Tarr’s penchant for obscenely long takes is reciprocated here as he stages each scene with his own doom and gloom aesthetic. Never has a film been so dedicated to the basic modes of survival, the malaise of the proceedings becoming more intimate by the second. The Turin Horse may as well be a symbol for the entire world, a sobering depiction of mortality and desolation.

Ty Landis

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