Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse had its sole New York Film Festival screening this past Sunday afternoon. Cinema Guild is its distributor.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of Friedrich Nietzsche’s fateful encounter with a horse, here is what you should know: Turin, Italy, 1889. Nietzsche emerges from his apartment to find a cab driver beating a stubborn horse that refuses to budge. Distraught, Nietzsche attempts to stop the violence, but instead is taken home inconsolable by his landlord. Hungarian master Béla Tarr has decided to explore the unanswered question: whatever happened to the horse?
Is there a story here? Probably not, but as Tarr himself has said, “If you’re talking about storytelling, I’m not your man.” Instead, he focuses on the daily routines of the cab driver (Ohlsdorfer), his daughter, and of course the horse in the week following their encounter with the famous philosopher. Naturally, it is brilliant.
Long long long long shots (no surprises here) follow this small, poor family at their country estate as they layer up each morning, dredge water from the well, eat their daily way-too-hot potato, and go about their lives. The ingenious and fitting somewhat-off-key score illuminates the haunting isolation of this small family within a storm. A steady decline faces the protagonists- the horse refuses to eat, their water disappears, the lamps won’t stay lit, the storm worsens. Throughout it all shines Erika Bok, whose portrayal of Ohlsdorfer’s daughter is thoughtful and enrapturing.
The two are visited by a neighbor, who with the slightest prompt pontificates on the nature of man to “acquire, then debase” whatever he can, and by a gypsy clan who tries to take their water and must be chased off their land. The gypsies leave behind a book, written by the film’s writer László Krasznahorkai, that serves as an anti-creation story from a church that builds things up only to bring them down.
Tarr’s final film may not be his finest work, but it’s fitting, as was his final answer at Sunday afternoon’s Q&A: “You do everyday the same [sic], but every day is different. Then you just disappear. There is no apocalypse…this is all I wanted to say with this film. The work is done, so there is no reason to repeat.”