The Turin Horse (2011)

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Director: Bela Tarr

Stars: Erika Bok, Janos Derzsi

You’ll get more enjoyment from staring at a horse for two and a half hours

Bela Tarr was a filmmaker I had never heard of until I read a wonderful article in a blog called www.magnoliaforever.blogspot.com. I noticed that the person who wrote this blog had a very similar interest in films to me, and so when I heard him rave about The Turin Horse and how Bela Tarr was one of his favourite ever directors, I just had to seek it out! Now, I had heard some peculiar things about this film that did put me off slightly. I heard that it was two and a half hours in length and only had 30 shots. Don’t get me wrong, I love a long take as much as the next fat person, but 30 in 150 minutes sounded excessive and potentially tedious. I also heard that the film had no plot at all and just followed an old man and his daughter going about their day-to-day business, which put me off. However, The Turin Horse had such rave reviews from everyone who had seen it. The imagery did look beautiful, and I was really looking forward to experiencing something unique and new. Unfortunately my fears were pretty much met.

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I’ve seen some crushingly boring films in my time. The highlights of boredom (or lowlights) for me would have to be the Austrian snooze-fest, Import/Export which I watched because it appeared on Film 4’s extreme season, where they showed pretty hardcore stuff. I had never heard of it and decided to give it a go and was met with the dullest thing I had ever seen. This was the most boring film I had seen, until I set my bleeding eyes on the Hungarian art-house drama, Uzak. A film which basically followed two of the most boring characters on the planet watching TV and wondering around the house and street aimlessly. It was the first film I had actually hit fast-forward on.

Whilst, The Turin Horse isn’t quite as inexplicably boring as these two films, it is still probably one of the most boring films I’ve seen. Like Uzak, it’s Hungarian, and if I’ve learnt anything from Hungarian films it’s that Hungary must be the most lifeless place on Earth. The Turin Horse actually manages to outdo Uzak in terms of boring characters, and gives us THE two most boring characters on the planet. A grunting father and daughter who live in the middle of nowhere and only speak when they have something to grumble about. If these two met up for coffee with the two brothers from Uzak, I could only imagine the stimulating, jovial conversation that would flow between them!

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The Turin Horse is hardcore arthouse. I’m into arthouse films when they offer some sort of story of experience. I just can’t get my head around films where literally nothing happens. Some people find art in watching the mundane activities of life, but I’m afraid that it just does not interest me. For me, The Turin Horse was basically the same short film being repeated six times, as it takes place over six very long days. It goes like this: They get up, the daughter dresses her father because he’s far too boring to dress himself, she goes out to the well and fills up some buckets, brings them in. Then they have a muck about with the most tragically lifeless horse you’ve ever seen (I think boredom catches), and then they eat a potato and go to bed. Repeat. I didn’t find anything “mesmerising” or “gripping” in these activities, as many reviewers have stated.

Whatever you do, don’t believe the DVD’s blurb! The blurb actually makes it sound like a really interesting apocalyptic thriller. It says that the film has left audiences “gasping for breath” which was obviously just mistaken for audiences being rudely woken up when the film had finally finished. Apparently there are “a bizarre series of disturbing events” unless this counts the arrival of some gypsies who get shooed away by the father, because they obviously brought far too much life to the film. The “terrifying, all-consuming finale” may be all-consuming but it’s not that terrifying. A better blurb would say, “Imagine a film which captures the boring, daily routine of your own life and amplify it by ten thousand.”

However, The Turin Horse isn’t all bad. Yes it has nothing going for it in terms of plot or characters (something I consider as the most important aspect of a film, especially one at 150 minutes long), but there’s no denying how outstandingly beautiful the film looks. It looked so promising when it opened and I was hoping that all my fears would be dashed! It opens with a five minute take of the Turin horse pulling a wagon with the father on, but thanks to the beautifully fluid camerawork it’s anything but boring! The way the camera floated around the fog reminded me a bit of Gaspar Noe’s visual spectacle, Enter the Void, a film I consider to be the absolute best on a visual level. On top of that there was a wonderful haunting score featuring very melancholic violins and an organ, a score that would drop in and out of the film regularly, and a score which I liked greatly.

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The imagery and music are the only redeeming features. Sometimes the film looked like a moody painting, painted in ink. There’s no denying how atmospheric the whole thing looked, and the fact that all the scenes were done in one uninterrupted take is highly impressive. Even if there are no interesting actions being filmed, I did like the way the camera would move from one perfectly framed shot to another so effortlessly. I especially loved the haunting shot of the daughter sitting out looking out the window like a desperately lonely ghost. I also did like the dread-filled ending where the father carries on his boring life regardless of a total apocalyptic blackout.

For some people this is enough. For some, masterful direction, atmosphere, a beautifully melancholic score and gorgeous visuals and cinematography is enough to warrant labelling a film a masterpiece. However, for me I require more. You can have the most beautiful visuals in the world, but if you don’t give a fig about who’s in them or what’s going on in them, then they don’t really mean much. The Turin Horse is totally and utterly plot-less, pointless and outrageously laborious. It’s one of the most boring things I’ve seen, but it is also beautifully made. There’s no denying Bela Tarr’s talent as a director, and if he had a real plot then he would be extremely powerful, but this has no plot. So if your into watching drips eating potatoes through the lens of a masterful director, then you might just be in luck!

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