Friday, April 6, 2012

the turin horse

I had seen the name Bela Tarr before but never took much notice until John started talking about a 9 hour film that he wanted to see but probably never would. I think he was trying to brag about his ability to endure such seemingly exhausting cinematic odysseys. I don’t want to sound like Dan Kois but I don’t think I’m capable of it right now in my life; perhaps I can blame that on an extremely low attention span. But I’ve made it through some long ones and some slow ones and even found myself surprised at how much I understood and loved what was going on. So Tarr’s stigma has changed a lot since his name first had meaning to me.

My first film from the Hungarian director is presumably his last, at least that’s what he’s insisting. It’s called THE TURIN HORSE and it runs at about 146 minutes. Before you start wondering what my obsession is with running times I have to say that in this picture’s case it becomes very important to this viewer. There is a masterpiece buried somewhere within this excessively long feature. As an aesthetic choice I don’t disagree with the template, a series of mundane and repetitive actions played out in real time. The problem lies in how many times said actions are played out and how often the point gets absent in the reverie. A 90 minute version would, in my opinion, have a stronger impact especially considering the power of the final twenty minutes.

The film sets up camp with a hansom cab driver and his daughter…. oh and their horse. The film opens with the following narrative: "In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.” From there we are thrust into a long sequence of the driver and the horse trudging through a brutal wind. It’s here that we are introduced to the film’s sole musical accompaniment, a great menacing loop of a song that fits the film’s deliberate purgatory.

From there we go to the house where the horse and driver reside and meet his daughter. THE TURIN HORSE is essentially 30 long takes, most of which seem like replicates of one another with the exception of two sets of visitors, a beggar who bears an “anti-Bible” and a group of grotesque gypsies. The routine consists of undressing, sleeping, going to the well in the wind, shoveling shit, cooking potatoes, eating potatoes, and doing it again and again and again. Tarr claims that his final feature is about the “heaviness of human existence” showing us the terror in monotony and purity. This is all measured and I’m sure for fans of the director it’ll come as no surprise pace wise how this thing moves. I’m a rookie but I was aware of his preferred technique and therefore didn’t find myself antsy or bored. But I stand by what I wrote before, a lot of what happens here (or doesn’t happen) could have been said with just as much panache if it had been confined to a less vexing running time. I’m curious to read what you guys think about this one.

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