Thursday, 15 December 2011

Watched - no 27 - The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011)

Bela Tarr's latest is unlike any other film you're likely to see this year; appearing to be more sculpted than directed, shot in striking monochrome and with little in the way of plot, dialogue or character development. The starting point for Tarr's gruelling but unforgettable exercise into 'the heaviness of human existence' ,as he describes it himself, is drawn from an encounter in 1889 between Nietzsche and a frustrated farmer whipping his recalcitrant horse. The German philosopher intervened and subsequently fell into a state of mental torpor that would last until his death in 1900. Tarr imagines the life of the horse, its owner and his daughter on a small farmstead outside of Turin over the following six days. This minimalist but monumental portrayal of the daily grind of the subjects - ritualistic, suffocating and relentless, highlighted by the repeated use of a mournful, cello led aural motif - unfolds in only 30 shots over nearly two and a half hours, stunningly composed by Tarr and masterfully captured by DOP Fred Kelemen.

The ceaseless howl of the wind from a never ending, increasingly oppressive storm raging around them, which leaves them isolated and stripped of the most basic of necessities for life – water - lead the isolated farmer, his daughter and their ailing horse to first attempt an escape from and then dutifully accept what appears to be their approaching fate – death, represented at the film's climax by a literal dying of the light. The Turin Horse, with its precisely composed imagery, existential atmosphere and blatant disregard for commercial success, is a momentous slap in the face to the banality of much of contemporary cinema. Staggeringly impressive.


  1. Well said. Especially your perceptive comment about Tarr''s disregard for commercial success. This is an 'art for art sake' film, and very refreshing for that,

  2. Thanks Paul, it was undoubtedly the most bravura piece of film-making I saw all year.