The Turin Horse
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The Turin Horse

Béla Tarr's (alleged) final film is a fitting end: long, tragic, slow, beautiful... you know, all that stuff.

Béla Tarr (Hungary, Masters)

Thursday, September 15, 9:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (350 King Street West)

Friday, September 16, 6:15 p.m.
Scotiabank Theatre 4 (259 Richmond Street)

Sunday, September 18, 5:45 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 (350 King Street West)

Essentially a long, bleak “what if?” in the style of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Turin Horse opens with co-writer/director Béla Tarr recalling the anecdote of a horse-whipping Turin in the winter of 1889, which was allegedly responsible for Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown. Instead of focusing on Nietzsche’s last days, Tarr follows the horse, its owner (János Derzsi) and his daughter (Erika Bók). Over the course of six days, we watch as they fetch pails of water, nap, and survive on a strict diet of boiled potatoes. As a brutal gale whips around them, and the horse refuses to eat, it becomes clear that Tarr’s heroes are facing their imminent doom.

Shot in Tarr’s typically austere long takes (there’s only something like 30 cuts in a two-and-a-half-hour film), Turin Horse lumbers through the day-to-day with a bruising tedium. Like a more gruelling Meek’s Cutoff, the film conveys the banality and ennui of labour with crushing verisimilitude. The variations on a theme prove tiring (that the “day” is “nap” in Hungarian seems almost prescient), and Tarr’s mannered camera movements may have you pining for the more rhapsodic bob and weaves of his masterpiece, 2000’s Werckmeister Harmonies. Still, if it is indeed Tarr’s final film (as he claims), The Turin Horse‘s crawling, ponderous descent into apocalyptic blackness seems fittingly, despairingly, apropos.