Atlantic Film Festival Review: The Turin Horse
When I read that The Turin Horse, the final film of acclaimed director Bela Tarr, was going to be playing at the AFF I was thrilled. I am a huge fan of Bela Tarr, and have long considered his Werckmeister Harmonies to be one of the most beautiful and visionary films of all time.
As the minutes, and then hours, dragged on and on, my excitement dimmed considerably. After only 30 minutes the crowd began to trickle out of the theatre, growing to a steady stream by around the halfway point, until the seats of the theatre were virtually empty.
The films of Bela Tarr are certainly not for everyone; honestly, they lack any kind of mass market appeal. These films are slow, meditative examinations of people and events, sometimes mundane, sometimes fantastical. But The Turin Horse pushes this concept too far, stripping any kind of narrative arc or character development from its beautiful, but empty, visual presentation. What’s left leaves little to care about, or be interested in, and had even those willing to stay for the (not insubstantial) runtime, frequently checking their watches.
The Turin Horse follows a father and daughter (and occasionally their horse) through 6 days of… well, nothing. They get dressed, they drink, they eat potatoes, they sit motionless in front of a window, they eat potatoes… it’s as interesting as it sounds. The closest thing to any real drama we get to see is when they occasionally (and unsuccessfully) attempt to hitch up their uncooperative horse to get to town. There are a couple of interludes, when a neighbour passes by and again when a cart full of gypsies stops to steal some water, and in these moments(and they literally are only moments) we get a glimpse of Tarr’s more compelling works, as the heady dialogue and bizarre characters break through the monotony, ever so briefly.
Every shot is framed brilliantly, consisting of a series stationary camera points, each creating a beautiful virtual painting, the stark images presented in subdued black and white. The camera moves only to get from one of these canvases to the next and Tarr almost never cuts, making each shot a series of beautiful visual sequences and tableaux, lasting easily 10 to 20 minutes each.
But these beautiful scenes begin to repeat themselves, with only the smallest of variations, just as the same handful of musical measures repeat again and again and again. Any dialogue we get from our protaganists is mostly monosyllabic, and we see little of them doing anything other than these minor daily rituals repeated ad nauseam, so when the narrative(or lack thereof) finally comes to a conclusion, it feels virtually meaningless, because we simply have no vested interest in these characters.
I hope Bela Tarr reconsiders and comes back to filmmaking at least once more; as a fan, it is absolutely painful to see his last work come up so empty.