The Turin Horse

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am


The Turin Horse
Janos Derzsi, Erika Bok, Mihaly Kosmos
Director: Bela Tarr

The DVD release of The Turin Horse is, in a way, the end of the end. Having toured the festival circuit since its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival last February, Bela Tarr's self-proclaimed directorial swansong now enters home-video territory - a setting that doesn't do justice to the Hungarian's pensive, monochrome widescreen work.

An austere film set in a desolate stone hut during a harsh winter, The Turin Horse demands patience from the viewer. The reward, however, is a thought-provoking, riveting piece of total cinema.

The title refers to the tale that inspired the project. The 'Turin horse' is the cab-pulling animal whose suffering at its driver's hands led to the observing German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's mental meltdown in 1889. The film explores the possible fate of the horse after that incident.

The narrative proper begins with a long take of the horse plodding to the isolated homestead of its owner, Ohlsdorfer (Janos Derzsi). What follows is a chronicle of the subsequent five days, as the horse refuses to move or eat or react - a slow rejection of the world that mirrors Nietzsche's. But the world can't be kept at bay: Ohlsdorfer and his daughter (Erika Bok) learn of the apocalypse about to descend on their valley from a messenger (Mihaly Kosmos) and a group of fleeing gypsies.

Comprising just 30 shots and a soundtrack driven by the terrifying sound of the wind sweeping past the stone hut, the end of the world has never sounded so menacing - and all without the slightest depiction of chaos. The Turin Horse is a solemn reflection on how its characters live their bleak lives: Ohlsdorfer struggles with his own failing physique; his daughter has to deal with the consequences of his decline while still getting on with her own heavy (and mundane) chores.

It's with such meticulously choreographed imagery that Tarr shows his worth as a remarkable artist. With the help of his frequent collaborators - screenwriter Laszlo Krasznahorkai, co-director/editor Agnes Hranitzky, cinematographer Fred Kelemen and composer Mihaly Vig - he has delivered a film that's great in its audio and visual elements, and dissects human behaviour finely.

A final film about the end of the world? What a way to go.

Extras: Tarr's first short film, Hotel Magnezit; running commentary by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum; press conference at Berlin; trailer; booklet.