THE TURIN HORSE
(directed by Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011)
*** (out of 5)
> This project was sparked by a story about Frederich Nietze becoming so enraged by the mistreatment of a horse, that he attacked and beat the abuser before spending the rest of his life in a mental institution. This begged the question: “Whatever became of the horse?”
. THE TURIN HORSE is relentlessly downbeat drama, from a couple of apparently suicidal Hungarian filmmakers. Have I ever seen a bleaker film? If so, I can’t remember it offhand… (Maybe somewhere in Bergman, at his most despairing.) This deeply depressing examination of the lives of a bare sustenance farmer and his daughter, features frequently breathtaking black-and-white cinematography of the highest standard, but the content? Mind-numbingly repetitive to say the least. We see the rote minutia of their daily lives unfold: Farmer wakes, grumpy. His servile daughter dresses him. He has two shots of brandy, and goes out to tend to the most pitiful, sorrowful horse you have ever seen. But the miserable animal won’t eat, and refuses to move when harnessed to the wagon. They give up on him and go back inside.
. And all the while, the gnarliest windstorm imaginable rages around them. You are chilled to the bone, just watching the images unfold! The moaning wind is choked with organic debris, making the air seem almost alive- as if populated by swarming insects, on a scale that is downright surreal. This cycle repeats itself with minor variations day after day, testing even the most open-minded filmgoer’s patience. But this had the effect of really placing you into the daily-grind of these hardscrabble peasant’s lives, and making it thrilling when something actually happens.
. A neighbor comes over to mooch some hooch, blathering on in a long, rambling nihilistic and nearly incoherent monologue. A group of travelers arrive in an exaggerated coterie of jubilant ne’re-do-wells, helping themselves to the well water and manhandling the daughter when she goes out to confront them. They are finally driven away by the livid, rifle-wielding farmer. Later something happens to the well… Just what- I could not tell you. There was a shot that was supposed to reveal this, but it was so hopelessly dark it communicated nothing. (The fault may have lied in the monitor, not the exposure.) Was the horse at the bottom of the well? Guess I’ll never know.
. THE TURIN HORSE is a clear case of the film critics being out of touch with the average filmgoer. How they could rate this difficult film a lofty 8.0 is beyond me! I do get that you can respect a film without necessarily enjoying it. That is exactly how I felt about THE TURIN HORSE. But is this the kind of film you want to suggest to the unforewarned with a high rating? (8.0?! I would give it a 6.6 myself.) Nonetheless, there was something deeply haunting about THE TURIN HORSE. Surprisingly, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The windstorm was so vivid and relentless as to be an integral character, and a very memorable one at that. Ultimately, I had to upgrade my rating from 2½ to 3 stars.
> But would I suggest THE TURIN HORSE, as entertainment? Sure! It’s the perfect film for masochists… like me, apparently.
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