The Turin Horse

About Béla Tarr's movie

Why is it worth watching "The Turin Horse" instead of "Terminator 27"? You will have free seats, the 3D goggles won't hurt your ears, you won't miss any twists in the story and you definitely won't get an epileptic seizure because of vivid, flickering, colourful images.

When Béla Tarr announced the end of his filming career, it generated a shock similar to when a major band breaks up. It's hard to decide if it's the real thing or just a marketing trick. However, there is no doubt he used up mostly all potential in his unique style, as every 'Tarrian' piece deals with the bleak fatefullness, expressed using similar elements and devices. Moreover, he usually worked with the same people throughout his career.


The foundation of "The Turin Horse" is the story according to which, when Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed a carter whip his horse while travelling in Turin, he became so shocked that he went mad. The screenplay written by László Krasznahorkai is just as joyless as the German philosopher's original story. The film itself is practically a reversed genesis. It is about the story of a carter (János Derzsi), his daughter (Erika Bók) and their horse, taking place at a farm in the 19th century, told in about two and a half hours. They can't harness or feed the stubborn horse. They can't get any water from the dried out well. They can't even light a fire in the end, and the world becomes completely dark, although the audience is offered the 'grace' of watching how the two characters have to eat raw potatoes.

The movie aims at an absolutely realistic depiction in a completely emptied, minimalistic style. This becomes very intensive as a result of not distracting the viewers' attention with too much information. The endless naturalism of the scenes comes from the extremely long cuts, desolate locations and speechless characters, although to express philosophical thoughts and to focus the attention, stylizing and estranging also play very important roles; the black and white images, the narration and the occasional monologues with deep philosophical messages that seem completely out of place all add to that. While Fred Kelemen's camera work is very expressive and dictates the pace and the accents very well at the battered farm and its surroundings, the sound is more problematic, in a technical sense as well. Today's movie-goer is probalbly amazed by the mono experience this film is offering, which from a certain point of view can be regarded as a positive, since the uniform block of monothematic audio creates a sense of minimalism. The most bothering aspect is the overdubbing which is so far-removed from the picture's meditative, realistic air and dramaturgy, especially in case of the female character, that you sometimes feel like watching a soap opera. It's unbelievable how the voice acting can make the experience of this otherwise very elaborate piece so ridiculous and almost unbearable. The effects, noises, ambient sounds are also unauthentic. The only positive aspect of the audio is the string music composed by Mihály Víg, which expresses and strengthens the film's monotony and fine, minimalistic aesthetics with its intractable repetitions that never seem to end.


There are a couple of issues in regards to dramaturgy. The fact that the poor family's house was built this big clearly only to allow optimal camera movements hurts genuinity. However, the gradual exploration of the interior in front of the viewers' eyes is carried out beautifully. Another interesting point is that if the horse jibs because of an impending judgement day, how is it possible that the horses of the gipsies riding along aren't shocked at all? And if it's only about the private tragedy of father and daughter, that makes the neighbour's flight of wit become unfounded, let alone the complete darkness in the end.

All in all, "The Turin Horse" is a piece of Hungarian film that achieved major international success and roughly sums up Tarr's prior work, even including direct references. People either love or hate Tarr's work who, according to a professional ranking, is the world's 13th best director. Whichever way you feel about him, it is certainly worth watching his last piece in order to see the whole picture of his career.

The Turin Horse

Runtime: 146 minutes
Country: Hungary, France, Switzerland, USA
Color: black and white
Directors: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
Writers: László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr
Music: Mihály Víg
Cinematography: Fred Kelemen
Producer: Gábor Téni
Editing: Ágnes Hranitzky
Cast: Erika Bók, János Derzsi, Mihály Kormos

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