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TURIN HORSE, THE (A TORINOI LO) (directors/Ágnes Hranitzky: Bela Tarr; screenwriters: László Krasznahorkai/Bela Tarr; cinematographer: Fred Kelemen; editor: Ágnes Hranitzky; music: Mihály Vig; cast: Janos Derzsi (Ohlsdorfer), Erika Bok (Ohlsdorfer’s Daughter), Mihaly Kormos (Bernhard), Risci (Horse) ; Runtime: 146; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Gábor Téni; Cinema Guild; 2011-Hungary-in Hungarian with English subtitles)

Though a heavy and somnolent watch and not for all tastes, it has redeeming value for being so full of reality.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The great 56-year-old Hungarian director Bela Tarr (“Satantango”/”The Man From London”/”Werckmeister Harmonies“)announced that this would be his last film. The anti-narrative drama about the drudgery of peasant life is shot in black and white, has seven titled chapters such as The First Day, and has sparse dialogue. In fact in the first 25 minutes there is no speech. Tarr refers to his film as a “sad windy movie.”There is an oppressive raging wind throughout, which makes you think of Lillian Gish in the 1928 silent The Wind. WriterLászló Krasznahorkai has co-written it with Tarr, while Tarr’s wife is credited as co-director and editor.

It’s a doomsday end of the world film that tells a reverse biblical Genesis tale, by somberly portraying things leading up to the end of the world instead of the beginning. Though a heavy and somnolent watch and not for all tastes, it has redeeming value for being so full of reality. Tarr’s reality is a bleak one, where life means suffering and merely a struggle for survival and trying to cope with one’s madness. Pleasure is a luxury not found anywhere in the rural setting. The title is derived from an event on January of 1889, in Turin, Italy, when the visiting German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche broke down in tears after witnessing a cab driver whip his horse for not moving and supposedly fell into a state of madness for the rest of his life, living for the next ten years with his mother and then his sister.

The two leads are the white bearded, lamed right-armed, elderly stoic peasant farmerOhlsdorfer (Janos Derzsi) and his unnamed long-suffering hardworking middle-aged daughter (Erika Bok), who helps him undress and cooks for him a supper meal of a boiled potato–to be eaten without utensils. The farmer relies on his aged horse, Risci, to pull the cart so he can do his chores, and when the horse refuses to budge there’s a major crisis brewing on the desolate farm. A neighbor (Mihály Kormos) drops by one day to warn the peasant the windstorm is a sign that the world will soon end, which are thoughts the peasant deems to be “rubbish.” The other human contact is from a passing wagon of gypsies, who when refused permission to use the old man’s well respond by singing in chorus “We own the water, we own the earth. Drop dead! Drop dead!” By the time the sixth day ends and life stops and morphs into a nothingness so that there is no seventh day, we realize we have seen a mysterious film that begs further thought. The unique, austere, intense dark film about impending death can’t be properly translated by any critic’s summary. How worthy the film is can be judged only by assessing the power of its visually seductive poetry and mesmerizing background music (courtesy of the rigorous score by Mihaly Vig), that makes it for me a must see nutty film that auteur film lovers should catch before the world ends.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”