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
In Turin on the 3rd of January 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert, perhaps to take a stroll, perhaps to go by the post office to collect his mail. Not far from him, the driver of a hansome cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver - Giuseppe? Carlo? Ettore? - loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene ...
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I can't organize my thoughts so I'm just going to spill them out and sort them out some other time. Although it is a shame (a tragedy) that Bela Tarr will make no more films after this, but perhaps it is a fitting end. A farmer (we assume... he has a horse but it's unclear exactly how he makes a living, if he does at all) and his daughter trudge joylessly through their monotonous routine. Getting dressed, schlepping water from the well, eating a meal of simply boiled potatoes, and for relaxation, staring out the window. Over the course of 6 days, we see -- in a manner mildly reminiscent of JEANNE DIELMAN -- the routine start to break down as some sort of vague apocalypse seems to be descending upon them. Life, what little is left of it, is draining out of the world. A neighbor delivers a monologue about the degradation of humanity, how the good people have quietly faded away while the rest debase everything they touch. A wandering pack of gypsies leaves the daughter ("eyes of the devil") a religious text. Is it these two particular people who are doomed, or being judged? Or all of mankind? Tarr, as usual, not only doesn't give answers, he doesn't even let you know if he's asking the question.
Which is to say, if you loved any of Tarr's previous four films, you will probably love this one, although it is his bleakest. The cinematography is, as one would expect, jaw-droppingly rich. From the opening shot of the horse defining the word "struggle", to Ohlsdorfer's sunken, skull-like eyes, to the spine-chilling image of the daughter's beaten-down face staring out the window, the film is loaded with stark, gorgeous, unforgettable visions. Mihaly Vig once again submits an incredible score, a funereal dirge that shares the soundtrack with the incessant howling wind. Tarr's films have a tactile effect, and here you can truly feel the bitter cold of the landscape and the house that surely does little to protect its occupants from the elements.
It's a haunting film, and perhaps Tarr's most difficult... although only a third the length of SATANTANGO, the repetitiveness gives it less forward momentum. But it completely worked its way under my skin. It's mesmerizing, thought-provoking, breathtaking. If Tarr makes another film, I'll be thrilled, but if he doesn't, at least he's left me some of the greatest works of art I've ever seen.
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