1889. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse while traveling in Turin, Italy. He tossed his arms around the horse’s neck to protect it then collapsed to the ground. In less than one month, Nietzsche would be diagnosed with a serious mental illness that would make him bed-ridden and speechless for the next eleven years until his death. But whatever did happen to the horse? This Berlin Film Festival winning film, which is Tarr’s last, follows up this question in a fictionalized story of what occurred.
Turin Horse is art cinema at its worst. From the opening scene, a five-minute shot of a man riding a horse, the film is self-indulgent, pretentious, full of itself and, above all, painfully dull. While I’m occasionally rather fond films that take their time and move at a slow pace, Turin Horse has no justification for unraveling at the glacial speed that it does. I’m almost sure I missed a birthday or two while I was in the screening today.
The problem is that, in contrast to the similarly slow Meek’s Cutoff or Norwegian Wood which remain in my favourite films of the year so far, there’s no story to be found in Turin Horse, no development of its central characters and, most importantly, it doesn’t seem to have any point. What you’re left with, as a result, are repetitive sequences of mundane people going about their mundane lives as they – over and over again – collect water from the well, get changed, cook potatoes on the stove and eat them with their bare hands.
Most tellingly, the characters are so frustratingly boring that you actually, as a viewer, grow to hate them. Therefore, when Turin Horse does finally show flickers of a narrative towards the final 30 minutes – bearing it mind that there are 140 minutes overall – in which the man and daughter’s routine is put at risk, you simply don’t care.
One can’t help but feel somewhat bemused by what Friedrich Nietzsche has to do with the film. Take away the opening voiceover of how we’re following what happened to his horse after the infamous event that left him in a demented silence and the film has no difference. It almost feels like a desperate ploy to showcase at least some kind of plot for the film seeing as there isn’t a whole lot else you could say.
Aside from beautiful black and white visuals and gorgeous sound, Turin Horse is so void of anything remotely interesting that it seems like Bela Tarr might actually be making some grand art statement about attention spans. Either that, or this is actually an elaborate parody of a European art film that is simply being viewed in the wrong light.
It may be his last film, but from the evidence presented to me this morning, Bela Tarr probably should have quit while he was ahead.