Turin Horse: Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlinale 2011
Long, slow and repetitive film essay about a very harsh way of life.

Hungarian director Bela Tarr's sleepy drama, which is in competition at Berlin, is long and repetitive in its telling of a harsh way of life.

BERLIN – Hungarian director Bela Tarr’s somnolent drama Turin Horse tells of an ageing father and his grown daughter who lead lives of relentless tedium in a shabby dwelling on a bleak, windswept plain. Towards the end of the film, they appear to lose the will to live. They are not alone. Monotonous and repetitive, the black-and-white production runs 146 very long minutes as the two go about their mind-numbing daily routines accompanied by a sonorous musical dirge that is as relentless as the ferocious winds outside. 

Fans of Tarr’s somber and sedate films will know what they are in for and will no doubt find the time well spent. Others might soon grow weary of the measured pace of the characters as they dress in their ragged clothes, eat boiled potatoes with their fingers, fetch water, clean their bowls, chop wood and feed the horse.

The title horse is apparently one mentioned in a brief narration at the start about Friedrich Nietzsche, sobbing over a mistreated equine in the Italian city of the title. The horse is prone to stubbornness and shows a reluctance to move, which will have a severe impact upon the man and woman living in such remote circumstances.

The story, if it can be called that, covers six days in their lives with each one numbered and pretty much the same as the one before. Janos Derzsi, as the rugged old man, has a wonderfully craggy, white-bearded physiognomy that bears up to considerable scrutiny, which is a good thing since he doesn’t say much. Nor does Erika Bok as his long-suffering and industrious daughter.

Along about Day 4, the well goes dry and it seems like a good time to find someplace else to live, but then the storm kicks up even more and it’s back to the old routine. By this time, cinematographer Fred Kelemen’s mostly stationary camera has revealed about all there is to see in a fine array of textures in such things as the wooden table, the rough floors, the walls of stone, the ropes on the horse and the skin on the boiled potatoes. That does not, however, make up for the almost complete lack of information about the two characters, and so it is easy to become indifferent to their fate, whatever it is.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Competition)
Sales: Films Boutique
Production: T. T. Filmmuhely, MPM Film, Vega Film, Zero Fiction Film
Cast: Erika Bok, Janos Derzsi
Director, screenwriter: Bela Tarr
Co-director, editor: Agnes Hranitzky
Screenwriter: Laszlo Krasznahorkai
Producers: Gabor Teni, Marie-Pierre Macia, Juliette Lepoutre, Ruth Waldburger, Martin Hafemann
Director of photography: Fred Kelemen
Music: Mihaly Vig
Costume designer: Janos Breckl
No rating, 146 minutes