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Harry Dean Stanton,
1889. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse while traveling in Turin, Italy. He tossed his arms around the horse's neck to protect it then collapsed to the ground. In less than one month, Nietzsche would be diagnosed with a serious mental illness that would make him bed-ridden and speechless for the next eleven years until his death. But whatever did happen to the horse? This film, which is Tarr's last, follows up this question in a fictionalized story of what occurred. The man who whipped the horse is a rural farmer who makes his living taking on carting jobs into the city with his horse-drawn cart. The horse is old and in very poor health, but does its best to obey its master's commands. The farmer and his daughter must come to the understanding that it will be unable to go on sustaining their livelihoods. The dying of the horse is the foundation of this tragic tale. Written by
The Turin Horse is a film that works off the story of one of Nietzche's final encounters where he supposedly wrapped his arms around a horse crying. Of the story, Tarr asks "What happened to the horse?" - and thus The Turin Horse was born. The film takes place at the turn-of-the- century and recreating that kind of atmosphere is hard but Tarr manages to do it magnificently, creating sets and buildings out of stone and wood especially for the film. Originally devised in the late 80s and postponed and delayed by various people for various reasons, it stands out on it's own from any of Tarr's previous works for two reasons. The first is that it's Tarr's last and for most that will be a sign of defeat for cinema - I feel the same way - but for some it will pass them by without even noticing. The second is the visceral performances from the two central characters. Father and daughter. An hour into the film they are met by a visitor spouting Nietzche-like philosophies but is cast out by the father calling it horse manure. The only other appearances come from a group of gypsies and the narration by Tarr himself. The film follows the daily life of the father and daughter as they sleep, eat, dress and look after their ailing horse who's health slowly deteriorates as the film progresses. Tarr's trademark, uncompromising 10-15 minute single shots, either entice the viewer or make them incredibly uncomfortable and it's no different here than in Satan's Tango or Damnation. The cinematography is always the utmost magnificent thing about any of his films and it is absolutely splendid here - bear in mind the film contains a minimal 30 takes. It remains among the best of any Tarr film even managing to overcome the odds set by the beautiful Werckmeister Harmonies. Not to mention the incredible score which is laden throughout the entire piece - the main motif is haunting and will undoubtedly be stuck in my mind for days. Where the score isn't the harsh sound of gale force winds fly through the frame. The wind sets the perfect tone for the center of the movie where we come to terms with the similarity of this families' day to day lives. As the film comes to a close the routines work their way back into the film and you're left wondering how anyone can even stomach it any longer. The characters are heavily undeveloped but the way their routine and daily life is presented one can only express sympathy for their plight and watch as their story unfolds either to their benefit or to their dismay. Tarr has obviously done this on purpose - leaving the human aspect of this film to the very end and sacrificing it for the feelings of the titular animal which serves as the center of this, Béla Tarr's last masterpiece. While the opening 20 minutes contain no dialogue bar the opening narration, the ending is an incredible parallel as the final 15 minutes are played out in complete darkness, ending with Tarr's narration - followed by an ending to be remembered for a long long time to come. A premature death for cinema. Or is it? Only time will tell.
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