The Turin Horse (2011)


Although fellow Flickfeaster John Reeve has been “off the grid” for a while he’s a good friend of mine and we often catch up in the real, offline, world and chat about movies while enjoying a tasty beverage. So it was a wonderful, and surprising, treat when John called me up a little while ago to tell me that he’d picked up two tickets for The Turin Horse and that I was invited along to enjoy the film with him forthwith. I didn’t know what to expect from the movie but I was apprehensive, knowing just how much John had loved it at EIFF 2011 – his review is here.

Starting off from an apocraphyl tale about Nietszche and the day that he saw a cabman whipping his horse and then ran up to the creature, put his arms around it and then headed back to his home, where the madness would start to set in that then stayed with him until his death. Bela Tarr uses this moment as a springboard to then look at what happened to the horse and cabman, the result is a film full of beauty and foreboding that will test your patience even while it treats your eyes.

The lives of the people shown here are difficult ones, full of nothing to hold your interest. Apparently. I admit that during the first half hour or so, I was worried about having to endure this monotonous and bleak movie for another two hours. At one point I wanted to turn to my fellow film fan and hiss “you brought me here to watch people eating baked potatoes with their hands for two and a half hours?”. Thankfully, the movie began to weave a spell on me and by the end I knew that I would watch it all over again.

Bela Tarr would seem to be a man with great patience and focus and he demands the same of his audience. This may seem to be quite arduous at first but when you become so involved with the onscreen world you realise that giving your full attention and patience to the movie is a small price for such a mesmerising experience. The movie is so beautifully constructed that I wondered how the director had even managed to get every wind-blown piece of dust and debris to act for him, there’s not one part of any frame in the movie that seems like a happy accident.

I don’t think the film is a masterpiece, though I wouldn’t argue with anyone holding that opinion, but I do think that it’s a magnificent achievement and one that you could study and pick apart for hours, days, even weeks afterward. I’ve seen my fair share of bad, boring movies and would distrust anyone who would dismiss this film in such a way (although, superficially, it would appear to be a complete coma-inducing snoozefest).

The three main characters – the cabman, his daughter and the horse – are ALL brilliant (and the acting is superb from all involved) and the repetition of actions and routines so much a part of their daily, miserable lives almost becomes something quite ritualistic and almost choreographed as the movie progresses. Tension builds with any extra, unexpected, detail because the rest of the movie is full of such hopelessness. I was on the edge of my seat at one point, yet all I was watching was a scene in which the cabman and his daughter look out of their window. It may sound silly but it proves the effectiveness of the overall style and what Tarr accomplishes throughout the runtime.

My rating is actually a starting point because the more I think about the movie the more I think it has cast some kind of spell on me quite unlike anything else I have ever seen in the 21st century. Even while stating that I don’t think the film is a masterpiece I begin to feel doubt creeping into my mind. I hope you can take that as a glowing recommendation.


Film Rating: ★★★★☆

  1. Chris Knipp says

    Why do we sometimes find a film’s an ordeal and yet want to repeat it? Because it’s art and art isn’t always easy, I guess. You and Reeve have made me think about Turin Horse some more, so thanks.

    (My Sept. 2011 review, NYFF:

  2. Kevin Matthews says

    This is the first film I’ve seen in a long, long time that has felt like hard work but hard work that’s also very rewarding.

  3. Chris Knipp says

    I’ll grant you that films aren’t often hard work, though festival ones can be. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan 2011) was hard work (NYFF 2011) and I didn’t think it worth it. In truth I didn’t think The Turin Horse ultimately worth the struggle, but I’ll readily grant you Tarr is a true and notable “auateur.”

    Sometimes they’re just long and intense, like Melancholia. But I willingly watched that again. Sitting through all of Carlos in one go was hard work, but I loved that.

  4. Chris Knipp says

    I meant “auteur.”

  5. Kevin Matthews says

    Yeah, festival films can be hard work and we can only hope that the experience is ultimately worth it. For example, I personally wouldn’t want to watch Melancholia again. Yet I know that I would do my best to sit through The Turin Horse once more. Whether it would be a greater or lesser experience, I have absolutely no idea.

  6. Olly Buxton says

    just the stills from this (and Chris’ equally great review) make me want to see this. Persuading the missus to sit through it though – not so confident about that.

  7. Kevin Matthews says

    Yeah, really don’t think my wife would stick with it either. It’s tough going.

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