Oliver and Derek Go Back and Forth on Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse"

by Oliver Skinner and Derek Marchewka
February 13, 2012 8:56 AM
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"The Turin Horse" The Cinema Guild.
Derek:  So with The Turin Horse finding a limited release, it's as good a time as any to discuss our experience with it.

Oliver:  We saw it on the Thursday of TIFF right? We had been there for about a week, seeing 2 or 3 films everyday, so we were pretty exhausted by that point.

Derek:  I found it interesting that of all the different movies that sort of washed over me, I can think of at least five that I really can't remember the contents of. Yet I can recall the details of the Turin Horse quite clearly... although, that probably also speaks to the film's repetitive nature.

Oliver:  Definitely. We had seen our fair share of films that really experimented with cinematic form, like Sokurov's "Faust" for example, but The Turin Horse just kind of blew everything else out of the water, at least for me. I had been speaking with a filmmaker earlier in the festival, and I told him we were seeing it. He said to me that Tarr's films absolutely had to be experienced on the big screen. Which sparked an initial anticipation.

Derek:  Yeah, it really did widen my idea on what a film can be. I remember how we tried to explain it to some companions of ours, and all we could say, "Well, there were three or four scenes of the characters eating potatoes."

Oliver:  Exactly. It's honestly indescribable. Then before the screening we ran into another companion at the Lightbox, and he told us to "drink lots of coffee" prior to the screening. Because we would need it.

Derek:  Didn't you think that it passed by quite fast, though? It just worked into this momentum, all these scenes and motions of the camera so hypnotic that it really did break into another realm . . . Perhaps we should go a little bit into the plotline, or lack there of.

Oliver:  Well it opens with a few lines of text which give us a basis in the event leading up to the film's taking place. In the city of Turin, Nietzsche observed a horse being cruelly whipped by its owner, spurring him to kind of throw himself over this horse to stop it being hurt. Then apparently Nietzsche was never the same, and suffered a serious mental breakdown around the same time or shortly after. Then we follow the horse and its owner and his daughter...

Derek:  Which consists of them living out their mundane lives, tending to the horse, chopping wood, hanging clothes, eating the aforementioned potatoes. And the bulk of the movie comprises of this, but there was something so mesmerizing to the cinematography, the framing, the black-and-white, it was just intense.

Oliver:  Which plot-wise might not sound good on paper, but through Tarr's eyes...

Derek:  Becomes something amazing.

Oliver:  I remember the very first shot (and they were all looooong shots; the film had very few cuts) -- but the first shot was just the camera following the horse and its owner up to their cottage. I don't know if it was the grainy black & white film stock, or the demising score, or the way the horse's head frames up to the camera lens... but it really grabbed me right from the start. It seemed to say so much.

Derek:  Indeed. But then that one character comes in, and a whole new undertone is introduced.

Oliver:  Oh yeah, the one visitor? Because there's hardly any dialogue, and then this man comes along and speaks this utterly profound monologue out of nowhere, and it kind of propels the film into another realm, I think.

Derek:  "We acquire to debase, debase to acquire. God has rejected us, society is doomed, the world is coming to an end..." -- something like that. Because the father and daughter just continue what they're doing, and then the well that they get water from dries up, their horse starts growing sick, then their heat stops, they can't eat anymore. In reading about Tarr's theme in the movie, he said something about a ontological, cosmological crisis; how we as humans are doomed innately, in our positions with God and the universe. And it's so startling to look back on this film, in all its listlessness, and see that emerge.

Oliver:  At the Q&A I believe, he said it was about the dullness and emptiness of everyday life. "It gets weaker, and weaker, and weaker," remember?

Derek:  Yes I do! And more on that, we were so lucky to hear him speak afterwards. As an aside, I was so moved by him saying that that I told him how I agree once we got to meet him. Then there were also a few exterior things which made our viewing of it all the more moving.

Oliver:  There was someone sitting beside me, and I remember about 30 minutes in he pulled up his legs and grabbed them, and kind of curled up into a ball in the cinema seat. When I noticed I thought it kind of funny, because I had been considering doing the same thing! Something about the film was totally mesmerizing and it seemed almost a defense mechanism against all the awe it was producing. And then there was that lady sitting a bit behind us...

Derek:  She was going "oh no!" to some of the narration, and it was so loud that it made some of those around her laugh. And it was right at the end! The grim, grim end.

Oliver:  Didn't she utter, in the most annoying voice one can imagine, an "oh nooo" at the very darkest point of the film basically -- and we couldn't help but giggle through it, to find that it was the film's finish?

Derek:  Yeah, but I remember you saying that was sort of a poetic thing to have happened, certainly a contrast. And then there was Bela Tarr's wonderful Q & A, definitely the best of the festival. After, we met a fellow film-goer with whom we had a half-hour conversation. He was definitely the most knowledgeable person I've ever met on the subject of cinema, and told us all about Tarr's movies. So everything stemming off that movie just moved me in ways cinema never has.

Oliver:  Well Tarr's definitely a revolutionary. And The Turin Horse was his final film.

Derek:  Which makes it all the more powerful, that as it talks about the end of humanity, or the redundancy, it is also the end for him.

Oliver:  He said it kind of summarized everything he had worked towards in his career, and that his body of work felt completed and that he didn't want to be able to ruin it. There was nothing left to add.

Derek:  Damn, it's kind of inspiring to think that he came to such a decision.

Oliver:  He did say that he didn't want to completely remove himself from the field of cinema, but he believed there wasn't anything more he could contribute. He mentioned wanting to work with youth, because he believed they were the only hope for the future and progress of filmmaking as an art. His words were really so intriguing.

Derek:  As was his film. So, can we agree that The Turin Horse is a fully engaging experience, abandons typical movie-conventions, with little dialogue and plot-line, but in doing so penetrates to realms that are, as you said, indescribable? And hopefully some interesting theatre-fun can happen like it did for us.

Oliver:  Oh certainly.

Derek:  I can't really endorse it enough, if there is a theatre that it's playing at near you, get to it!

 

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