Directed by: Bela Tarr & Agnes Hranitzky
Written by: Bela Tarr & Laszlo Krasznahorkai
Cast: Janos Derzsi, Erika Bok
This reviewer has sat through a number of excruciating cinema-oriented experiences. I’ve seen “Caligula” and at least two Antonioni films; Bergman instills no fear in me, neither do Michael Haneke, Alejandro Jodorowsky or Andrei Tarkovsky (none of whom are afraid of challenging–or tasking–their audiences).
I think I would deem Bela Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” a noble experiment. Certainly well-intentioned but, in the final analysis, an artistic failure. The co-writer and co-director (Agnes Hranitzky and Laszlo Krasznahorkai collaborated) was inspired by an episode from the life of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and sought to recreate the days following the alleged (possibly apocryphal) incident, imagining the eventual fate of the driver and his recalcitrant horse.
Tarr’s intention, over the course of more than two hours, is to instill in us an appreciation of the dreariness and squalor of the lives of the two principal characters (well, three, including the horse). In that sense, he succeeds wonderfully. In thirty extended shots, he reveals to us the depths to which they’ve fallen, their increasingly marginalized existence. But I would argue that other film-makers have managed to convey desolation, horror and impoverishment far more economically and effectively. I think of film-makers like Bunuel (“Los Olvidados”) and Hector Babenco (“Pixote”) or even the medieval harshness and brutality of Bertrand Tavernier’s “Beatrice”.
I applaud Tarr’s aesthetic ambition (I used to marvel that Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” featured only 142 shots in 163 minutes) but “The Turin Horse” is a reflection of his artistic vanity, exposing a willful disregard for his audience. Only one other film in the last few years has annoyed me more, Godard’s “Film Socialisme”. Tarr’s antipathy for viewers hasn’t quite reached that extent, but “Turin Horse”, despite its high-falutin’ concept and crushing earnestness, inspires weariness and, finally, boredom rather than empathy. Surely, that wasn’t the intention.
What could have been a work of great power and humanity is reduced to a rather prosaic documentary on starving peasants, the cameras left rolling, set on automatic, directors and scenarists, apparently, off taking tea.