Operating somewhere between Bergman and Tarkovsky, Béla Tarr has been a wholly original inspiration for remodernist filmmakers for his spiritually exploratory form of cinema that revels in extremely long takes and the dire desolation of humanity itself (see his 7.5 hour epic Sátántangó). With his longtime editor, Ágnes Hranitzky, Tarr co-directed what may turn out to be his final feature, the brutal, coldly intense paragon of philosophic, but to-the-point filmmaking, The Turin Horse. Pushing his craft to the bleakest edge of mankind, Tarr masterfully paints the maddening monotony and utter futility of waking up day after day in austere black in white. This is dark stuff, people. Real dark. And sadly, Tarr is said to be leaving cinema (directing) on this high, bleak note.
The film begins with a spoken word preface that tells the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche, in 1889 in Turin, Italy, observing a cab driver whipping his stubborn horse. Overwhelmed with emotion, he eventually puts a stop to the torture by throwing himself upon the horse, subsequently goes into an apoplectic state for two days, and at the end, loses his mind from the tumultuous event. Stemming from this story of sacrificial compassion, Tarr, with his great creative partner and screenwriter László Krasznahorkai, follow the narrative of the nefarious cab driver, named Ohlsdorfer (János Derzsi) and his deteriorating horse. After a stunning opening sequence of the horse and his master fighting the wrath of a wind storm that we come to find will torment them for the following five days, we learn just how miserable his life really is. Ohlsdorfer is more a pathetic ogre than a self sustaining elder. His lame right arm and dead left eye render him incapable of caring for himself. Luckily, his devoted daughter (Erika Bók) helps him dress, fetches them water, and cooks every meager meal they consume without complaint.
Broken into six days over which the aforementioned wind storm takes place, we watch Ohlsdorfer and his daughter repeat their wearisome daily routine, each day trying to coax their horse back to health with less and less hope. We begin to realize it is in this poor creature that these peoples’ lives depend on, yet Ohlsdorfer previously treated it with such little regard. Through these drawn out repetitions, Tarr wants us to question humanity’s lack of respect for life, even our own, and why we so blindly hope for better days ahead when nearly every day seems none better than the one previous. It is with brilliant simplicity and astute realism that he speaks so pertinently, yet asks oh so much of his viewers. No matter how gorgeous Fred Kelemen’s meticulously choreographed cinematography, the film is a very slow 146 minutes long, in which we see the same actions occur day in, day out. For most, this is very hard sell, but if you are down, there is bleak brilliance to be found.
Since breaking into the Blu-ray business last year, The Cinema Guild has been batting 1.000. Each film released has been of utmost quality with discs to match. The Turin Horse has received the same treatment with a glorious A/V presentation and bountiful extras to round out the disc. Tarr’s stark film has gotten an impeccable transfer. Its gray palette is highly impressive, boasting incredible detail and deep blacks in everything from hair to the nooks and crannies of the rocks that make up the only structure in the film. Flawless. Mihály Vig’s magnificently haunting string based soundtrack and the highly realistic sound design pump through a Hungarian DTS-HD stereo track that is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a little sad to not see a 5.1 track, especially for wind whipped outdoor scenes, this track is nothing to complain about. The only thing this disc lacks in comparison to Criterion, the reigning kings of auteurist home video, is a discernible package, as it comes nestled in a still attractive standard Blu-ray case.
Audio Commentary Track by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
Only running about half the length of the film, this commentary is more of a detailed history of Tarr’s oeuvre and this film’s place in it than a dissection of the film. That said, this is a reasonable length commentary for such a film. He also speaks at length about Tarr’s relationship with his long time filmmaking collaborators. Rosenbaum is incredibly knowledgeable on Tarr and his films, often quoting from Tarr himself, as well as his writing partner Krasznahorkai either from interviews, film festival appearances or personal correspondence. Overall, a very lively, informative listen, especially for it being a solo track.
Press Conference with Béla Tarr, co-director Ágnes Hranitzky, actors Mihály Kormos, Erika Bók, and János Derzsi, director of photography Fred Kelemen, composer Mihály Vig, and co-producer Gábor Téni from the Berlin Film Festival 2011
Uncut, this is the full press conference following the premier of The Turin Horse in Berlin. As many start, this has a long and awkward photo session, followed by a lengthy Q&A. Questions of the film’s meaning, its inspiration, and Tarr’s potential retirement from film are all taken. The entire event lasts about 50 minutes.
Hotel Manezit (1978), a short film by Béla Tarr
Tarr’s earliest work, this ten minute short depicts an old World War II vet being asked to leave his long time residence, a hostel, where he as become known as a drunken loon. The picture explores the idea of truth and the change of emotion as the man’s situation escalates.
Regis Dialogue with Béla Tarr at the Walker Art Center (2007)
This hour and twenty minute Q&A, moderated by film critic Howard Feinstein, is based around a retrospective with film clips that run through Tarr’s career. He answers questions on each film with lengthy detail about decisions made during production, filming technicalities, stylistic shifts, and a wide range of other topics. For those unfamiliar with the director’s work, this is a wonderful sneak peak into his oeuvre.
Smartly using Vig’s haunting strings as a backdrop, the trailer takes key shots from the film, and pairs them with loving review quotes from top critics in plain old white on black. There is no indication of plot, and it’s probably better that way.
Included in the package is a stark leafet featuring film critic J. Hoberman’s essay on the film titled, “Brute Existence: The Turin Horse.”
Béla Tarr’s supposed career finale is a supreme metaphysical meditation on death and human cruelty that lulls us into a state of despondent surrender with simplistic repetition and a truly vexing soundtrack that is worthy of a listen all its own. Though a cerebral experience, The Turin Horse is not a film that needs much deconstruction. Tarr makes no bones about what he aims to show you, and if you have the patience, he takes his sweet time allowing us to spend time with these people, watching them suffer through horrible weather, complete boredom, and quite possibly even karma. We move around their ramshackled house, with them, waiting for the cessation.
- Film Review
- Disc Review