The Turin Horse , by  Béla Tarr
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The Turin Horse , by Béla Tarr

August 18, 2019

THE TURIN HORSE In Turin on January 3rd 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the
Door of number six Via Carlo Alberto, Perhaps to take a stroll, perhaps to
go by the post office… …to collect his mail. Not far from him, or indeed
very far removed from him, a cabman is having trouble
with his stubborn horse. Despite all his urging,
the horse refuses to move, whereupon the cabman
– Giuseppe? Carlo? Ettore? – loses his patience
and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and that puts an end
to the brutal scene of the cabman, who by this time is foaming with rage. The solidly built and full-mustached Nietzsche
suddenly jumps up to the cab and throws his arms around
the horse neck… …sobbing. His neighbor takes him home, where he lies still and silent,
for two days on a divan until he mutters… the obligatory last words: “Mutter, ich bin dummm.”
( “Mother, I’m fool.” ) And lives for another ten years,
gentle and demented, in the care of his mother and sisters. Of the horse… we know nothing.

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  1. This motive goes directly under your skin (it goes on almost in every scene of the movie!). it can easily become the O.s.t. of all your bad moments!




    Director: Bela Tarr
    Bela Tarr, considered as the dark horse of Hungarian cinema, is the winner of Special Jury award at Berlin Film Festival (2011) for his film Turin Horse. A middle-aged director with some remarkable films to his credit, Bela Tarr is an image of controversy in his own country Hungary as well as in Eastern Europe. It is his creative grit and normative prowess that makes him a director of different shade. His films do enjoy support of minority audience and make him survive. He makes films the way his mentor Miklos Jansco structured his remarkable films in minimal shots, a phenomenon no other international directors could attain. Bela Tarr, famous for his film Satan Tango, wins international fame but not international audience because of his language problem. He may not be a genius but he is one director who makes no compromise on cinema and ideological front.
    A peep into his career dynamics would show that he wanted to be a philosopher rather than a film director. He used to carry a strong faith that hints: “I thought my task in the world was to change it. And I considered filmmaking something to do on the side.” To begin with, he had a Russian-made wind-up 8mm camera, and made an 8mm film about a workers' family, who were evacuated from their apartment. he recorded the event as an amateur film. Under new physical reality, he went to the famous Bela Balazs Studio, learnt the art of filmmaking which resulted in a film called The Family Nest. Says he: “There are 2 kinds of behavior: either you kick the door in or you knock politely. I wanted to kick it in.” Incidentally, the first two films are intentionally raw as he did not work with professional actors. It is said to be a conscious choice on his part to make an anti-film. To prove his point he wanted it to have a documentary look, with a handheld camera. If the film got scratched, then it was scratched. It is not only a political choice, but also an artistic choice, he has acknowledged.
    In its narrative is hidden some interior fillings Nietzsche staying with him in Turin in 1889. Nietzsche is said to have flung his arms around an exhausted carriage horse, then lost consciousness and his mind. Somewhere in the countryside: a farmer, his daughter, a cart and the old horse. Outside, a windstorm was whirling. This thin slice of optical sight, it is claimed, has made the German philosopher suffer a mental collapse in 1889, 11 years before his death. While the causes of the illness are not known, one story goes that he saw a man whipping a horse in Turin and ran to protect the animal before collapsing. Bela Tarr just picks up the splinters of memory from the position of Nietzsche and his breakdown except to use it as a way into the lives of the horse's owner Ohlsdorfer, a farmer, and his daughter.

    The Turin Horse is kept alive as a mark of sentimental reason by Bela Tarr which has been hailed at Berlin Film Festival his "re-modernist cinema that seeks to capture the rhythm of life in real time and to raise a sharp awareness of the moment." According to Bela Tarr: "Their practiced movements and the changes in seasons and times of day dictate the rhythm and routine which is cruelly inflicted on them. The film portrays mortality, with that deep pain which we, who are under sentence of death, all feel."
    Their ritualized day goes something like this. The daughter usually rises first, with the father shortly after, fully clothed in PJ’s with socks (and usually viewed at an angle echoing Mantegna’s “Dead Christ” which becomes quite amusing through repetition. The Turin Horse, contrary to everything you may have read up until now, can be a pretty funny film, especially when seen more than once.) He swings his legs around the side of the bed, and she helps him take off his bedclothes, which are as many garments as the daytime clothes she also puts on for him like a patient nurse. This establishes a certain complicated patriarchy, but made vulnerable, and the critical role the daughter plays in making everything in the house and the farm function.
    In fact, she does most everything: She preps all of the food—largely potatoes, boiled, served in a wooden bowl with no utensils—tends to the oven, the gas lamps, the laundry, refreshing the hay in the horse barn, retrieving water from the well that looks about 50 yards from the house’s front door. Dad, on the other hand, can’t get the day going without two swigs of his preferred booze, palinka, a type of Hungarian schnapps that looks as strong or stronger than vodka. (You know things are going bad on the farm when he doesn’t stop at two swigs, but chases it with a bigger swig straight from the bottle—with Kelemen and Tarr holding on the bottle as he sets it down for an extended still life shot, a vision of possible doom, and one of the moments in The Turin Horse that truly takes the viewer directly back to Satantango, and its extraordinary fascination with drinking and bottles.)

    One finds in its backdrop some elemental credo of the director. It seems that especially in Satantango and Damnation, his characters are presented in a fashion where they believe in a very gloomy kind of Christianity with an emphasis of signs, miracles and the apocalypse. Since Bela Tarr is a non-believer his points-of-views get mirror-reflection in these films that tend to critique this kind of belief system, but they also partake of it. Says Bela Tarr: “Every film I've made asks the question `What does one believe in”. Truly, one can perceive and seize in his films a combination of faiths, beliefs and interests. But each faith is revealed as based on illusion. And then it spreads thin and disappears. Say, in Satantango, Irimias, which means "Jeremiah," is a messiah. It is said all messiahs are generally just ordinary spies. There may be luckier nations on the Earth which have regular messiahs. He challenges these silly notions saying that he has not “landed on the moon yet”. Funnily, at the end of Damnation, the man decides not to communicate with anyone but a dog. Similarly, in Family Nest, having an apartment is an unattainable illusion. In the going it is revealed all the characters believe they will be happy if only they have an apartment. But the director finds this “situation as very tragic, but with more and more of a cosmic dimension”. It gives us serious a note to guess what Bela Tarr sees it only within the family, but he slowly discovers that “it affects almost everything.”
    In doing scrutiny this critic observes certain sections of Satantango that emphasize on images far more than the story, and vice versa. It seems there is a tension between image and narrative entwined. However, Bela Tarr does think they are detached, because the story is always a part of the image. Says he: “In my vocabulary, story doesn't mean the same thing it means in American film language. There are human stories, natural stories, all kinds of stories. The question lies in where you put the emphasis on what's most important. There are everyday tidbits that are very important.” To defend his stand he narrates: “For instance, in Damnation we leave the story and look at a close-up of beer mugs. But for me, that's also an important story. This is what I mean when I say that I'm trying to look at things from a cosmic dimension. If I could describe a film fully by telling you the narrative, I wouldn't want to make the film. It's time that film frees itself from the shackles of linearity. It drives me crazy that everyone thinks film must equal linear narrative.”
    Folding back to The Turn Horse and its patterned structure we cull a thick despair you are after and in the process nothing has matched The Turin Horse, from Hungary's master of existential bleakness Bela Tarr. Nick James of Sight & Sound writes: “His new film, inspired by an anecdote about Nietzsche, is so grim that it makes Tarr's previous films, such as Werckmeister Harmonies, look like Mamma Mia!. Set in a wind-battered valley, the film follows a carter and his daughter as they eke out an austere existence, while the horse they depend upon mysteriously refuses to co-operate.” It is almost religiously repetitive in its depiction of life as ritual, the largely wordless film reaches a devastating, quietly apocalyptic ending, feels Nick James. He ridicules: “If you find Beckett too frivolous, this is the film for you – a harrowing but intensely beautiful work” According to him this “not the greatest film on show.” Yet the conservative critic feels the honour must go to The Turin Horse, directed by Béla Tarr, the Hungarian master exponent of "slow cinema" – a less obviously award-friendly film, and thus more likely to get the Silver Bear. 
    Probably, I have strong reasons to decry what Nick James trots out. In a preamble we are told that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once encountered a baroque cab horse being whipped so he flung himself on to its neck to stop the brutality and thereafter went mad. We ourselves are then flung into a vortex of drama elegiac and mournful music as a horse driven by a man with only one useful arm pulls a battered cart uphill through a blasted landscape towards a desolate farm. There we witness daily rituals, mostly performed by the man's downtrodden daughter, of dressing him, fetching water, cooking potatoes, drinking Patinka, and minding the sick horse. Nick James warns saying: “This sort of action-free, dialogue-sparse cinema is not to everyone's taste, and it steers close to self-parody at times, but if you want to see film at its most powerful and majestically bleak, look no further.” Like Jancso, Bela Tarr has used only 30 shots to wrap up the film The Turin Horse. It is too long and is of 146 minute duration with lustrous black and white tone. However, Bela Tarr summed up his message thus: "Their practiced movements and the changes in seasons and times of day dictate the rhythm and routine which is cruelly inflicted on them. The film portrays mortality, with that deep pain which we, who are under sentence of death, all feel."
    The film is riddled with very long takes. And that irritates many why it is so. This is also an irritating question, Bela Tarr thinks. To this he has only to say: “What can I tell you about this generally? The people of this generation know information-cut, information-cut, information-cut. They can follow the logic of it, the logic of the story, but they don't follow the logic of life. Because I see the story as only just a dimension of life, because we have a lot of other things. We have time, we have landscapes and we have meta-communications, all of which are not verbal information. If you watch the news it is just talking, cutting, maybe some action and afterwards talking, action, talking. For us, the film is a bit different.” Here narrative agency is also his own. He has wanted to offer us a different kind of narration. He believes: “For us, the story is the secondary thing. The main thing is always how you can touch the people? How can you go closer to real life? How can you understand something about life, because as we talk a lot of other things are happenings. We don't know, for instance, what is happening under the table, but there are interesting, important and serious things happening”.
    While waltzing through the elegiac tale of father and daughter caught up in the most desolate life-style, I can assert it is full of meta-communication. And he subtly applies it justify the exuberance the meta-communication. “We just follow the real psychological process, not the story, not the verbal information”, Bela Tarr confirms. 
    Many pan the film calling it too bleak and have very little hope. Rigidly replies Bela Tarr: “No, because I think we are full of hope. If you make a film you can believe it will still exist in the next fifty years and somebody can watch this film later, which is the biggest kind of optimism.” Because, he virtually knows the hope is the actual creative process. Simultaneously, he defies tag that treats human conditions as absurd. Here many disagree with him as far as the film presentation is concerned. On the issue of absurd-ism, he counter-attacks his detractors thus: “The world is moving and turning and people are seeing films. This is our film, that's all. We just want to show to you and to everybody how the human condition is. That's all. We don't want to judge anybody. We don't want to make any interpretation. We just want to show something of what's going on.”
    On whether his themes are universal or that his films reflect the malaise in Hungary, he notes: “Yes, we make Hungarian films, but I think the situation is a little bit the same everywhere. If you have a chance to make some really deep things I think everyone can understand everything. The question is always the deepness: how you can touch the people. In the beginning when we made our first film Family Nest in 1979 we thought okay, we have a lot of social problems. We wanted to change the world, and we were very powerful and very young with some new things: 16mm black and white, non-professional actors and the camera, and a lot of bad cutting.” 
    The point to note is if he works primarily with the same close-knit group of people. He is said to be a very autocratic guy and everything is in one pair of hands. He thinks film-making is not a democratic process. He must decide everything. But he would be crazy, a madman, if he didn't listen to his composer, cameraman and his writer. Says he: “I must listen to them because I involve them in this work and they want to do their best for the project, but the final decisions are obviously mine. Ágnes and I have the same opinion; we have the same point of view about life. That's the reason why when we are working we don't talk about art or philosophical questions or theoretical things.” The finality is: they just work and talk about the concrete situation: what is happening, how they can work with the actors, how they can be deeper and deeper. That's the most interesting thing in his filmmaking dynamics.
    Some critics of the West have found his terms of reference appearing to be conceived of with a biblical, apocalyptic resonance in this post-Nietzschean world. They also surmise that he is here to re-evaluate Christian values in his films. To cut corners, he retorts: “We think it's best to go back to nature. We are really not religious. We don't believe any kind of religion. It is a part of life, that's the reason why we involved it a bit in the film. But we definitely don't have to create a new religion. We don't want to create any theology No.” 
    It is found the American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum refers to his work as "despiritualized Tarkovsky." But this comment shatters Bela Tarr’s connotative ideas. He decries it saying: “This is the opinion of Jonathan Rosenbaum. I don't know; it's his opinion. I haven't talked to him about these things. The main difference is Tarkovsky is religious and we are not.” On our side we know Tarkovsky always had hope; he believed in God. He's much more innocent than Bela Tarr and his clan. He has admitted that they have seen too many things to make his kind of film. He thinks his style is also different because several times Bela Tarr has had a feeling Tarkovsky is much softer, much nicer.
    There is a strong idea running that Bela Tarr puts philosophical enquiry using an artistic medium. But actually it is not so. Says he: “No, I gave it up. The whole philosophy and I don't want to be a philosopher anymore. I wanted to be a philosopher when I was younger, but fortunately or unfortunately something happened to me. Now I'm a film-maker, but I'm not a real film-maker.” Now one may ask him if there a difference between cinema and what he does. He is quick to reply: “I hope we are closer to life than cinema”. It is all the way cinema, cinema and only cinema, very closer to our life.
    The Turin Horse is indeed pared down, not just stylistically, but structurally as well. There is a reason that the film runs a mere two and a half hours relatively brief by Bela Tarr's standards. He says: "The film portrays mortality." That's the concept and he sticks to it, clean and lean. In planned imaginative way, the indelible visuals start with a long and furious opening tracking shot follows the horse as it pulls the cart and carter home along a wooded path. In the visual burst we see the mane flares and waves of the horse, the eyes bulge between the blinders, the whip cracks and, though the camera will move throughout the film, it never moves so swiftly and freely or covers as much ground as it does here. Vig's repeated measures, which somehow both underscore the monotony and sound a mysterious warning in later scenes, here drive the horse on, almost as if it were a minimalist march.
     Finally, the horse is stowed away in its stable, the potatoes are cooked and eaten, the father and daughter retire. Title cards announce the dawn of each day, six in all, a procession of things falling apart, of things falling away from a center that cannot hold. The father and daughter cling to their routine, a routine so well-worn there's no need for any verbal confirmation of what's to be done next. So it's all the more rattling when a neighbor arrives in need of pálinka and an ear or two into which to spill the philosophy he's settled on. The message emerges:  In short, though, the world cannot be made better, or only worse, because the powerful acquire and degrade in an endless ruinous cycle. When he finally brings his rant to an end, the carter gruffly dismisses it. Politics is played into rash reality.

    The antinomy is there too. There is a second interruption and it brings a band of gypsies, just as rattling because they seem to be enjoying themselves, striking a note quite incongruous with the rest of the world of the film. The father sends the daughter out to prevent them from arriving. In fact, they ignore her and drink from the farm's well. That's when the father bursts outside with an axe. As they pull out, one gypsy quietly slips the daughter a book — in return for the water, he says under his breath. Later the daughter reads, syllable by syllable, a passage that sounds biblical though it's most likely not from the Bible itself. The passage is another warning. Because a place has been desecrated, a punishment will be meted out. The next day, the well is dry. So much is depicted for religion? There is a dig at such faiths.
    And again there is the wild beating of the horse. It would probably be too easy to designate the beating of the horse, mentioned in the opening narration but not actually seen, as some sort of original sin for which the father and all his kin must suffer and then perish. Ultimately, a reading of any sort is unnecessary red-herring on this magnificent bare bone of a film.
    Far from stressing mythical faith on religious sin, Bela Tarr hits back revealing that there is no such thing as religious apocalypse. And he stands by it at the end. Thus Bela Tarr and The Turin Horse, one may dare comment, have shown on the speculum: if you need the truth about life, just break the mirror. Just break it.

  3. I've seen at least a bit of almost every film maker's work from Louis Lumiere to today, and I totaly fail to grasp any content or satisfaction in this medíocre hungarian's work. He is original? So are most drunks… He's coming to my hometown for a few days, and I hope I don't even have to see him, let alone any of his "work".

  4. We would like to recommend our newest hungarian independent short film:
    TRAGÉDIA (tragedy) In virtue of Zsigmond Móricz's short story by the same title [1909]

  5. J'annonce que Jésus est venu au monde pour annoncer au monde que le monde va
    « disparaître » sans que jamais aucun homme ne puisse le comprendre.

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