An expanded version of my short review published online in One Hundred Words Magazine:-
I feel very fortunate to live near such an inspirational cinema as the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge; a venue always keen to bring the best in cinema to its appreciative audience. As a huge (though not uncritical) fan of Bela Tarr, I have been eagerly awaiting his latest film, The Turin Horse, ever since it won the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival last year. Thanks to a special preview screening at the Picturehouse (after an inspiring 70mm presentation of Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala no less) I was finally able to see Tarr’s austere, magnificent film.
It begins with a brief prologue: a voiceover relates the story of Nietzsche in Turin intervening to prevent the mistreatment of a horse by a cabman. After the experience we know that Nietzsche lived out his life ‘gentle and demented, in the care of his mother and sisters’. The narration ends: ‘Of the horse we know nothing’.
Enigmatically, the horse and its owner who feature in the rest of the film are never explicitly linked with the Turin horse story. As Tarr has related in interviews, it was the unknown fate of the horse that provided the seed from which the film grew, but the ambiguity of the relationship of the short prologue to the film itself is entirely appropriate to a film which shows no interest in simple answers.
The story, though, is simplicity itself: a minimal narrative which concerns a father and daughter living a primitive, repetitive existence in a remote rural dwelling situated in a harsh, forlorn landscape, the howling winds a constant unsettling presence. And the horse, of course, who seems – like the world around – to be undergoing a slow, sad demise.
In typical Tarr fashion the film is extremely slow: its 146 minutes comprises only about 30 shots. It is the genius of Tarr and his team (many of them long term collaborators) that every one of those 146 minutes is somehow gripping. Each shot is a perfectly crafted miracle of movement, lighting, and meticulous observation. Each scene is alive with a palpable sense of immediacy, with the minute textures of the everyday, but also with a looming sense of the universal.
Bela Tarr is a filmmaker who takes single mindedness to a new level: he seems incapable of compromise. Thankfully, he is also hugely talented, and so the result of this approach is as challenging and beautiful and imaginatively fertile as this cinematic poem. In an interview with Hammer to Nail, Tarr says: “You have to be yourself, you have to tell everything from your side and you do have to have your own language”. He trusts in the intelligence of his audience to go with him: “You know, the question is what you believe about people, how do you believe your audience, spectators. If you trust your spectators. Because I trust my audience and you know well they’re not kids, they’re adults—clever, sensible, intelligent people, and you have to do your best for them.”
When you reach the final devastating image, you can perhaps understand why Tarr has decided to make this his last film. It feels like a full stop. As the preamble to the Hammer to Nail interview comments: “Basically he feels that he’s said what he needed to say in film and he doesn’t want to repeat himself.” We may well be disappointed that there won’t be another Tarr movie, but you can only admire his integrity.
And so Tarr’s last film is a grim, understated, powerful apocalyptic vision; it somehow seems a fitting finale for this particular cinematic giant.