Post(s) tagged with "the turin horse"

Don’t Dare Call THE TURIN HORSE Bleak: A Short Conversation With Béla Tarr

By Paul T. Bradley

Béla Tarr has been called one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. His films have their own pace, their own rhythm, and at times, a very forced perspective on some very intricate details in time. In watching them, you may find yourself rapt in the repetition of people doing what people do. You may find yourself transcending what may sound boring, into a higher echelon of visual poetry—Tarr showing you a woman’s daily trip to the well may indeed beatify banality. He is, after all, unlocking the logic of the universe before your very eyes with the power of his camera. 

Sadly for all of his fans, Mr. Tarr is not touching that camera again—he has said that THE TURIN HORSE will be his last film. Simply asking him “Why?” does not suffice for an intellect of his caliber. He doesn’t like to repeat himself, and he feels that he has said everything he wants to say with film. What do you ask a man who is tired of answering questions, and just wants to get on with the mere living of life?

Mr. Tarr was nice enough to answer just a few more questions for me, even though the drudgery of festival touring was, admittedly, beginning to wear on him.

Q. Your film THE TURIN HORSE is based on a somewhat important philosophical event. What is your experience with philosophy?

I have never been a philosopher. I have never studied philosophy. When I was young I wanted to be a philosopher, but life was different. In the end, I never went to university and I never studied philosophy, but everything in life connected me to film. I became a filmmaker and now I am a former filmmaker. 

Q. Ah, that’s right, this is your last film and now you are a Former Filmmaker? What about becoming a philosopher now?

No. Not now. When you need reading glasses, your life is totally changed there less of a chance for philosophy. To be a philosopher you need to read everything, newspapers, magazines, books—you must know a lot of things…not a lot of things: everything about the world and the whole universe. And that is if you really want to be a real philosopher and not just someone who just takes notes on Heidegger or something. For me, I am too lazy, too old, and too tired to start to understand the whole universe. But, I am fine with that. 

Q. And you are okay with that? Well, you seem to understand the details of people very well. Maybe you don’t need to read to be a philosopher.

That’s what I like: to be with the people, to understand them, to follow them and to show them with all of my sensibilities and my knowledge…and I have to show them with tenderness. That’s what I used to do. And now I don’t. 

Q. Well, you could always be a bartender now?

No. No. It is totally different. 

Q. How are you going to spend your days now, then? I don’t want to harp on you for your retirement. I know you don’t like to repeat yourself. 

My day always depends on the situation. Normally I am listening, except in the interviews. Now I am talking.

Q. Well, I could just talk to you, then?

Yes, that might be much more interesting. 

Q. Ha! I highly doubt that. In watching your films, the music always plays a crucial role in punctuation. Do you spend a lot of time with musicians, how have musicians influenced your work?

Yes. Our composer…I have worked with him since 1983, we have been friends for such a long time. I do go to his concerts and to his rock ‘n roll shows. When we work, though, we never talk about the arts or the craft, we talk about life. Life is much more interesting than art.  I have lots of friends who are critics and artists. But you are stupid if you are only talking about film or music. It’s nice to talk about food or architecture. 

Q. Do you talk about the future?

Of the world?

Q. Sure. Especially. 

First of all, I am not a prophet. I am not into judging. I cannot say, “This world is good, this world is bad.” This is our creation. Your creation and my creation. That’s what we cooked and we have to eat. The problem is, maybe sometimes we cooked something wrong and our creation is a piece of shit. Because people never respect each other. People never respect human dignity. They never respect nature. They do not respect anything that is eternal. They just always want to use the world for daily life. Just to have it. They do not learn. Maybe I felt this way when I was young, but now I prefer to share—not just have it. But maybe you need age to learn these things. 

Q. But THE TURIN HORSE might be seen as showing bleakness in growing older, or a bleakness with age. 

Why do they always use this word “bleakness”? What does bleakness mean for you?

Q. Bleakness may imply an inevitable absolute darkness, and I, personally don’t believe in an absolute darkness, an absolute end. 

I really don’t like this “bleak” word. Because I really just made a movie about the logic of life. What is happening?  You are always doing your daily routine. Every day is different, you do the same, but every day, you are getting weaker, you have less and less energy, less and less hope. In the end, life just disappears. What we see now is life just disappears…you quietly slip away. There is not an apocalypse—the apocalypse is just a TV show. Of course, when you die, you will be alone. Of course, when you die, the darkness will be total. The film is talking about this. It is not talking about the conditions of the world. It is talking about the whole of life—which is, of course, unacceptable—we want to refuse and we hate. But fact is fact. It will come. That is why I don’t like saying “bleak.” Because I want to show this is the heaviest thing. When Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being…I wanted to show the Heaviness of Being. 

Q. So, if not bleakness then, just inevitability?


Q. How is it that you gained this perspective? Where do think it started?

I worked in a ship factory for my first film. I learned everything about people for that film. Then, film by film, I learned more. Now I just listen to people, and if you have empathy, this is a perfect universe. 

Q. Do you have any sense that people may change, in a hundred years, or a thousand years? 

I don’t know. I said I am not a prophet! I am just interested in what is there now. Right now. And right now I need to smoke a cigarette.

Q. After that, are you going to see any other films at the festival?

I always see the main ones. But, how can you compare films? How can you compare a Bresson film with a Hitchcock movie? Two different worlds in the same planet. This is why it is quite nice to always watch movies, because you can see how colorful the world is. 

And with that, Bela Tarr went out to smoke a cigarette. 

Many thanks Mr. Tarr. Best of luck facing your next stage of the inevitable. I promise not to call it retirement. Or bleak.

Paul T. Bradley is a freelance writer, cinephile and former ditch-digger. He is a regular contributor to LA Weekly’s arts section, where he covers haute nerdery, semi-refined vulgarity and hastily-scrawled, pro-Los Angeles jingoism. He reluctantly tweets from @paultbradley.

An Apocalyptic Elegy

The Turin Horse

Chinese 6, 11/7/2011, 12:30 PM
Chinese 6, 11/9/2011, 1:00 PM 

By Bernardo Rondeau

Few directors could conclude their oeuvre with a film about the end of the world and get away with it. The exception is Andrei Tarkovsky, whose grave and contemplative epics set the pace, if not quite the tone, for Béla Tarr and varied other “slow” filmmakers. Tarkovsky transitioned from damp, weathered Soviet mysticism to crisp, Baltic fatalism in THE SACRIFICE. Dying of cancer, exiled and working under the benefaction of Ingmar Bergman (while also employing Sven Nykvist, the brooding Swede’s cinematographer, and Erland Josephson, his leading man) Tarkovsky is certainly cut some slack for this often leaden epic of psychological and global catastrophe. Then there is Tarr.

The director appears to be in fine health, works in his home country and has a loyal stable of collaborators (composer Mihaly Vig, co-screenwriter László Krasznahorkai and all around co-conspirator Agnes Hranitzky). Perhaps that explains the lack of any distinct cause—THE SACRIFICE’s atom bomb—for the spellbinding immersions in miasmic effect that is THE TURIN HORSE. Regardless, if the filmmaker’s pledge to retire from filmmaking is to be trusted, the film brings to a triumphantly humble close an inimitable body of work that stretches over three decades.

Not quite a declarative full-stop, THE TURIN HORSE is an astoundingly lucid and assured crystallization of Tarr’s themes, tropes and climates. Purportedly about the creature who, suffering under the whip of its master, was embraced by Friedrich Nietzsche on the streets of Turin in the winter of 1889, THE TURIN HORSE is hardly the kind of “untold” or “secret life” story this kind of set-up would suggest. Is the film even about the Turin horse? Or is it about a horse whose suffering and decline, like that of his donkey cine-cousin Balthazar, stands in for a greater spiritual ache. Is it the proverbial Turin Horse? Does the film’s title designate a type rather than an individual? (Likewise, Nietzsche’s gesture has long been read by historians as the signal call of the philosopher’s descent into madness, though some particulars on this fateful encounter remain subject to speculation.)
Tarr locates the film in a landscape far removed from the sumptuous, Alpine splendor which Nietzsche adored. The film is almost entirely set in the single-room farmhouse shared by rangy Ohlsdorfer and his stern-faced daughter—proprietors of the film’s titular equine—the adjoining barn and, for exterior, the weathered stretch of land that encircles it, with rolling hills out of Anthony Mann by way of THE SEVENTH SEAL. The sole landmark is a well whose depths take on cosmic proportions at one of the film’s few turning points.

After a baritone voiceover, a rare piece of narration for Tarr, places the film in the context of the Nietzsche incident, the eponymous beast lunges through the black-and-white frame, hulking forward, whipped by bitter winds, dead leaves and the seasick drone of Vig’s strings. The father, driving the horse from his mount on the lorry, is a grizzled scrawl compared to the black mass of brawn and hair before him. This first shot is a trademark Tarr distillation: over one traveling take, a world is formed, peopled and set in motion. From this moment, Tarr sets a brief calendar: five days in five chapters. Father and daughter go about their grueling routines as small disruptions—the horse protests, a visitor in search of brandy spews an End Times dirge, gypsies descend and leave behind a troubling book—slowly give way to cataclysm as something wicked their way comes.

Though unlike Tarr’s prior single-set feature, 1985’s AUTUMN ALMANAC, the new film is entirely devoid of inter-relational conflicts, chamber intrigues or even much dialogue. This winter almanac, taking place across five days, has allegorical heft somewhere between Old Testament and Old World fable. The father is one-eyed and with a lame arm, scraggly and scrawny, and is often seen laying on his hard cot through Quattrocento perspective. The daughter, largely mute and tireless, labors inside the house. This Jeanne Dielman of the steppes is resolved to repetition: boiling potatoes, collecting water from the well, and dressing dad in a convolution of layers.

The film firmly inhabits the same forlorn, grey-skied, grimly-inhospitable hinterland of SATANTANGO, Tarr’s 1994 seven-and-a-half hour opus, which lies on the fringes of the dead-end villages of 1988’s DAMNATION and 2000’s WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES. All of these three prior films in some way envision a greater, communal space—a village, a bar, a police station. THE TURIN HORSE stays put in near total isolation. Outside, an agrarian dystopia. No crops, everything ashen and worn.

Tarr is a poet of the inclement and the film has a storm of mythic resolve. Whipping by day, howling at night, it is the film’s great special effect, second only to Tarr’s roaming camera which makes labyrinths of the Ohlsdorfer home’s open-plan. The world of THE TURIN HORSE is falling into ruin. (Perhaps this is the apocalypse’s next stop after devastating the vacated township of SATANTAGO.)

All the while the horse is quietly and devastatingly erased. Perhaps instead of Bresson’s burro, this film’s animal avatar is more similar to the the talisman-like whale carcass of WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES. Its commanding scale, disarming vulnerability, and incriminating silence making it a portentous emissary from the sublime.

Perhaps the film’s greatest revelation, amid the splendor of its coal-faced chiaroscuro and its bravura tracks, is the presence of a narrator, an omniscience. Does it bring a new understanding to Tarr’s prior films and help to lend an agency to this lingering, weightless camera which sees through floors (AUTUMN ALMANAC) and witnesses disparate events simultaneously (SATANTANGO)? If Tarr’s characters are always doomed to Sisyphean cycles, toiling in circles, being prey to charlatans, and trying to find exits from their diminished lives through despairing acts of petty criminality, what roles does this omniscience play?

SATANTANGO is Tarr’s most epic orchestration of his themes of rural alienation, foolhardy resolve and mud-splattered drudgery, and WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES its more elaborately-plotted, condensed variation. THE TURIN HORSE addresses these same themes with the clarity and concision of an elegy. Come armageddon, come.

Bernardo Rondeau is Coordinator of Film Programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He programmed the first-ever Béla Tarr retrospective in Los Angeles.

THE TURIN HORSE screens as part of our World Cinema section at AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi!

An apocalyptic vision of the harsh lives of peasants in a pitiless landscape, this enigmatic and beautiful film marks Hungarian master Béla Tarr’s farewell to cinema.


AFI is America’s promise to preserve the history of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers. AFI provides leadership in film, television and digital media and is dedicated to initiatives that engage the past, the present and the future of the moving image arts.

As a non-profit educational and cultural organization open to the public, AFI relies on the generous financial support from moving arts enthusiasts like you to provide funding for its programs and initiatives. Become a member today and support your American Film Institute!


American Film Institute

AFI FEST presented by Audi

AFI Conservatory

AFI Silver Theatre

AFI Docs