If the end of the world (or your final film?) is when you say what you really mean, perhaps with The Turin Horse, Béla Tarr is giving the last laugh to the Gypsies of his state-seized debut film (shot at age 16) and delivering a stone-cold classic.
I Ain't Gonna Work On Magyar's Farm No More
First of all, don't believe the hype. Béla Tarr did not unequivocally state that he would never make another film; if you read the statements he's made, he is instead being honest about estimating what he feels he can, or can't progress in good conscience as an artist, and as an individual. He will certainly be busy teaching, as well as working with Cine Foundation International. Tarr did unequivocally state that should he feel the need to make a film, he would, but only for the very best of reasons. Such prudence by a director of this caliber prompts this cinema fan to lovingly and respectfully muse on what might be the benefit of a few other legendary directors (of late prone to armchair travel films laden with cardboard literary references, or shockingly impotent biopics about history's famous minds) meditating a little longer themselves on what they opt to helm.
Tarr's present "retirement" doesn't mean that co-director Agnes Hranitzky will not continue to work, nor that his protégées aren't already impacting the world (see Kornél Mundruczó's Delta), even as his films continue to do so, and it certainly doesn't mean that he's not seeing everything in his cinematic mind's eye, which will -- if the law of averages prevails, perhaps even in an uncommon artist's soul -- compel him to create more cinema. One hopes that the Film Society of Lincoln Center (who just did a full one-week retro) will opt to re-screen his films after The Turin Horse launches, because from this film there is to be newly-born an audience. I consider it miraculous fortune to have seen The Turin Horse at this past New York Film Festival, as it remains a full-on, absolute Big-Bang moment.
Simply put, for this fan, The Turin Horse is not only my favorite film from Tarr, it is easily very high amongst my all-time favorite films. It's a movie that I and some others will see multiple times, like the way some folks watch Star Wars (I doubt there will be any confusing Turin Horse re-edits and remixes in the years to come, though a multi-artist, encyclopedically trans-genre remix project of Víg Mihály's Oscar-worthy score is an intriguing idea). And yes, sometimes girlfriends or boyfriends will be dragged along to this movie after much negotiation, and fights will be had, and there may even be break-ups after The Turn Horse,wherein two individuals will come to ken that, given how differently they see this film, they are just too incompatible, as they awkwardly ride the train (surrounded perhaps by those annoying BAM ads). Said alienation will occur not because The Turin Horse is actually controversial, but because, depending on the person, you will likely either feel: A) cinematically ravished or B) land-locked, eight seats in on either side, contemplating how you're gonna cash in on the guilt your mate should feel for dragging you to this.
This dynamic was perhaps in play with at least one couple that I noticed during the screening of Tarr's seven-hour flick Satantango I attended, where I also met a couple who'd traveled from Nashville for this series -- "Our own Superbowl weekend, here at Lincoln Center!" bragged a FSLC staffer to a nearly full house. Maybe those who saw all of his films should be given a T-shirt; in fact, someone should curate a "Marathon Cinema" series of films which are five hours or more, and I base this on my own recent, simply transformative experiences at screenings of Tarr's Satantango, Edward Yang'sA Brighter Summer, and even the TV-serial films like Olivier Assayas' Carlos (which is out in a worthwhile "director-approved" DVD from Criterion) and the German omnibus-triptych Drieleibein -- this kind of curation would be great to see more often.
And those of us who caught as many fiicks as we could at Lincoln Center's Béla Tarr retrospective were treated to all sorts of tricks of the light, the weather and even animals, via a camera which moves with knee-buckling grace, re-imbuing the mundane with a sense of the miraculous, each movement hence ever more so, leaving one nearly out of breath, probing a strangely compelling universe pocked with moments of transcendental cinematic arrest: the instant agitprop of two kids running amok, reaching a fevered state of hyperactive repetition as state anthems play, in Werkmeister Harmonies; the end-credits rolling over a
doomed young couple whose lives are already infused with anti-climax as they ride alongside their new washing machine on the back of a truck in Prefab People; the dive-bar waltz through a slice of humanity which opens Werkmeister Harmonies; the singular visual opening of The Man From London, (or the singular opening to any of his films); the depiction throughout several films of women's agonized, drunken epiphanies as they sit amidst a table full of grimly complacent, drunk men (The Outsider and Prefab People come to mind quickest); the even grimmer depiction of a human tendency to submit to subjugation (the rape and post-rape scenes in Almanac of a Fall and Family Nest, alongside countess other moments interwoven during near-exactly 24 hours of programming.
And then, friends, there's The Turin Horse. Perhaps those who seek to at times superimpose structure, plot, message, etc., upon this film (present company included) would do well to just view it as the final scene in the enduring dream which his films have induced; just pan from The Man From London, over to a dusty road, leading to a cottage...
Consider The Gypsy
VIEWER 1: "You know, it's such a terrific film. And it only has four characters.
VIEWER 2: [confused] "Four?"
VIEWER 1: [anticipatory] "Yeah, you're forgetting the horse."
VIEWER 2: "No, I mean, yeah, the horse; did you know they re-cast the male lead because the horse didn't work well with the first?
VIEWER 1: "Really."
VIEWER 2: "Yeah. Anyway, I meant it's more than four; you forgot [to count] the
gypsies; remember that dynamite scene? There were at least five right there."
VIEWER 1: [pensive] "Oh, yeah...I would say it's his most reductive film."
VIEWER 2: [jokingly defensive, half-joking, trying to hide defensiveness] Well, I'd say distilled to a potent essence, rather than merely reductive...
In the search for words, I find myself returning to "deliriously sober". This is to say, it uproots us from the ever-present forgetfulness of being and posits us into a state of meditation.
One could say that it is this forgetfulness-of-being for which Tarr regularly indicts his characters (whom he also loves unconditionally) delivering, for over three decades, the insouciance of humanity itself, played by a gallery of actors with whom he has maintained a Bergman-esque rapport. Erika Bók, who as a child, played a child-suicide in Satantango, (and who played Henriette in Man From London) appropriately closes out this, Tarr's declared-as-last film, by eventually becoming a ghost, daughter to Ohlsdorfer, played by Neptune-visaged Tarr stalwart Derzsi János, whose POV bears witness to the unknown, naked, innocent in Satantango, after he takes part in an attack on a hospital.
Fresh from screening all of Tarr's feature films, it seems to me that the winds in The Turin Horse have been gathering towards this final judgment since the government police-seizure of his very first film (a short about Gypsies, see below) which he shot at age sixteen. And so, now, after he's examined the no-wave anarcho-individualism of post-adolescence (The Ousider); the strains of love in a tight economy (every film); the group dynamic in the face of "newlyfound" freedom as a case-study of human nature, and the failure of The State itself (Stantango) alongside countless other topics and visual miracles (in a filmography which you can only really discover for yourself), his last film is a chronicle of a death foretold, in which an already diminished human existence in a world of fear and taken-for-granted hostility is distilled down to a cine-Cartesian meditation, elucidating too late for its protagonists, a vital connection and responsibility to their very own fates. Whatsoever its viewers make of it belongs to the many mysteries of cinema.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Actually, depending on what you're used to, it's not always that well-lit (making for terrific exercise of the left brain -- more on that later) and on paper the plot reads like a bad, unfunny spoof of a Bergman film published in National Lampoon. Suffice to say that during the six days in which the light itself fades, as it were, a farmer and his daughter undergo their daily rituals in a kind of Groundhog Day of The Apocalypse, each day's routine stoically carried out in quiet, growing desperation, amidst a gradual, total abandonment (betrayal?) by the four elements.
Trailers certainly never help a film like this; you simply gotta dig it to dig it.
In the body of Tarr's work, The Turin Horse is unique in that more than any other film, it emerges as living photoshoot, converting the screen into a filmset, and the cinema into a cosmic darkroom, with a correctly boundless visual appetite. The organic value of this camerawork cannot be gainsaid by an appraisal of Tarr as a wielder of a narcissistic viewfinder, as it were, fetishizing the camera's gaze to the point of creating reductive work. To this understandable application of such a critique to The Turin Horse, I would note instead that what we have arrived at with this film is a subject matter matching an aesthetic, that is to say, a highly contemplative, perpetually revelatory lens is being used commensurately in the service of depicting a stripped-down, primal existence -- and so, pace and measure are equal to subject and content, creating a bewitching vérité, of sorts.
Nietzsche's Lost It & I Don't Feel So Good Myself
Against a solid black background we hear the all-important story of Nietzsche's famous breakdown, as a voice worthy of a Parliament album intro or a Lucasvillain, narrates:
"In Turin on January 3, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the door of number six Via Carlo Alberto, perhaps to take a stroll, perhaps to go by the post office to collect his mail. Not far from him, or indeed very removed from him, a cabman is having trouble with his stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the cabman...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 of the cabman, who by his time is foaming with rage. The solidly built and full-mustached Nietzsche suddenly jumps up to the cab and throws his arms around the horse's neck sobbing. His neighbor takes him home, where he lies still and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words: "Mutter, ich bin dumm," and lives for another ten years, gentle and demented, in the care of his mother and sisters. Of the horse, we know nothing."
The Turin Horse subsequently opens with images that seem to exist in, or come from the very edges of cinema history itself, haloed like something from Eisenstein's Potemkin, disappearing in and out of the dust like a phantom carriage. We see the horse's sweaty body in a rich, tonal profile, her hair matted like a new-born's -- and to an extent she is, bearing in mind the gravitas of the off-camera prequel.
During this alternately grueling and graceful, draining and exhilarating camera capture, the ostensibly unnerved, just-beaten horse moves spasmodically, at times almost like a wired, taxidermal horse, exhausted and chafing against a too tight-harness.
Shot from below at a garish upward angle against a soft leaden sky, we see the actual eyes, wide in alarm, the horse running nearly sideways in a kind of sinister update to Muybridge, a study in motion into and out of which light flows like a mercurial life form. I re-played this sequence at 1/8 speed and was mesmerized. Seeing The Turin Horse on the big screen is -- and I hate to say it, as perhaps not everyone reading this can do so -- fully essential, but having said that, seeing this on DVD was like being able to examine it under a microscope, and it is my hope that cinemaphiles will get a chance to do both.
Tarr winds his camera around the entire carriage, and when he finishes where he began, there is a poetry to our experience, a kind of metaphysical 3-D for the soul, through a camera fully immersed in the mis-en-scene, viewing the screen as jumping-off point a for dive through the viscosity of light and shadow, instead of as a mere plane to fill. And while the wind may be faked, the living earnestness of the cameras posit us into a kind of cinema that makes this one of the most hearteningly vital films I have ever and will likely ever experience. If Godard only needed a gun and a girl to make a riveting film, Tarr only needs a wind machine, a horse and an off-camera legend. Rather than compromising suspension of disbelief, any contemplation of Tarr's camera only adds to the very myth of this image, making it dually an experience of pure cinema, and an experience of a cinematic feat. Yes, camerawork can make me cry.
The baroque nature of this grueling, heart-heavy final trudge home is made achingly complete by a twisted, dirgey, euro-waltz comprised of three long, sighing, cello strokes, in a slow, repeating cascade, echoed by three shorter notes, against which we hear the counter-rhythm of an upwardly winding barrel-organ, grinding out a simple, sinister, carouseling, six-note scale which emerges during climaxes, after which, as the sole remaining element, it also serves as punctuation, its six notes seemingly counting down the days of the film, serving as the metronome of Ohlsdorfer and daughter's existence, while the cello emerges as their sad, sleepy, life-rhythm, gradually turned lament; every now and then we also hear a two-stroke heartbeat, and a scutter across the strings evoking an alarmed whinney. Tarr wisely finishes this opening scene without music, mixing back in the diabolically mechanical sounds of harness, wheels and road, reminding us that silence will almost always do.
By way of my own sub-cultural reference points-slash-flashbacks, I (and likely only I) was reminded by this music of Einsturzende Neubauten and their freaky horse, which probably adorned as many T-shirts as it did albums, something not to their discredit, though unfortunately not contributory to their bottom line; Nick Cave's "The Carny", with its equally sinister dirge-waltz (and a tragic horse) bubbled up from memory, and The Wolfgang Press's "Journalists" (a song which contains a great opening line) also came to mind powerfully, as did their "Cut The Tree" video, which was certainly High Art to my 19 year-old self (you can watch it HERE).
Before The Apocalypse, Chop Wood, Carry Water. After The Apocalypse, Chop Wood, Carry Water
Costumes do perhaps make the character, and one could cheekily dub The Turin Horse a costume drama, but these players fill their wardrobes out with a transcendent naturalsm. There is no doubt that in the hands of another director, this would all seem laughable. Their gothic stillness reminds me of a skit on "The Young Ones", depicting an ancient couple shivering around a campfire, talking of how they laughed. In the theater, a blessed dust mite fell my way and I found myself musing on how the old man in The Turin Horse could be seen as a counterpoint to the old man in Le Quattro Volte, like Snoopy's desert-dwelling cousin, Spike.
If Tarr gets the Oscar for this film, he will be immeasurably indebted to a horse (whose tears come at an incredible time, albeit as result of a wind-machine) which he chose over his initial lead actor, when horse and man -- make that co-stars -- weren't working out. And while it's sad to hear The Turin Horse has a Pete Best, frankly, it's hard to imagine a better lead than Derzsi János, who, in playing such a simple character delivers a hypnotically fierce inner monologue, affixed in a resolutely calculating, cosmically confused, wholly confounded face-scrunch, the shifting of which renders him a part-time Cyclops (his eyes wide-open moments are perhaps telling). Nearly mute, János delivers an angry grunt worth more than a
few Oscar acceptance speeches. Erika Bók's acting for the camera is masterful (she should probably teach a class on acting for the camera after this film). Manifesting a newfound awareness later in the film, Bók transforms the daughter into one of Edvard Munch's lost femmes, as she see stares out of the window, her head floating behind the glass as if transmitted holographically, fading after a few beats, into an incredible big-screen after-image.
Tarr's camera captures these performances with such vitality that watching them eat their single, daily potato, I am reminded that Kafka on his deathbed delighted in watching others drink water, as it was an essential act which his condition denied, and the vicarious experience buoyed him. During one scene which opens day two, the wind is so strong that you feel the camera bracing itself as the actress navigates the wind, bending against it like a salmon upstream, her hair blowing wildly, then wrapping her head magnetically, violently like an octopus in battle. Like the carriage scene, it feels as if from cinema heaven, its unintended lost focus and camera head-butts imbuing it with a subversive, documentary feel.
And again, through the detailed depiction of extremely simple acts, the film slowly settles us into a new mode of awareness. In fact for such a stripped-down, slowed-down film, it all felt like Sensurround -- every time the theater door opened and wind blew through the cinema, I would wince with a chill, and I could feel people passing by my seat, sweeping through the darkness like X-rays. And it is this sharp contrast (in this case literal and figurative) to our workaday lives that catalyzes our own meditations on the proverbial, big questions. During the dark murky light of middle-night, we discern the cosmically solitary table with chairs on either side, just melting into the tonal grays where, according to Drawing From The Right Side of The Brain, "the left-brain has no use for shadows other than the information they provide about a namable three-dimensional object" Not so for Tarr, who re-invests our left-brain, simultaneously re-introducing us to the wonders of Metaphysics. Or as Orbital asked, with a terrific sample: "Are We here?". It seems a miracle the chairs and table don't just float away – gravity itself seems miraculous, and of course, is.
During the night following this transformative day, we record the first falling-away of a constant in their micro-universe. After a shot in which the back of daughter's head looks like a tangled clump of worms, we hear this exchange:
Ohlsdorfer: "Hey, You"
Daughter: "What is it?"
Ohlsdorfer: "Can't you hear them either?"
Ohlsdorfer:"The woodworms. They're not doing it...I've heard then for 58 years but I don't hear them now"
Daughter: "They really have stopped... What's it all about, papa?"
Ohlsdorfer:"I don't know. Let's sleep"
It's fun to note that the most common form of woodworm is the Deathwatch Beetle, which, per Wiki, "to attract mates, these woodborers create a tapping sound that can be heard in the rafters of old buildings on quiet summer nights." This also remind me of Franz Kafka -- not The Metamorphosis, but rather an anecdote from I Am A Memory Come Alive, wherein we learn that F.K., in resolution to rid his apartment of a mouse, set a trap and subsequently found himself kept awake the entire night by "the sound of death coming for the mouse". At this point in the film, the deathwatch has tellingly come to an end, as the beetles -- the largest order of animals on our planet, have stopped mating.
As the narrator describes them awake in bed, we are invited to imagine the father's worldview, which -- by way of staying on the Coleoptera theme -- may perhaps not be so different from Ringo Starr's line about what he sees when he turns out the lights, and is now being thrown a cosmic curve which he is perhaps not equipped to grapple with (and of course, who is?). And when Tarr brings up the light on that same murky space in the cabin on day two, it is terrifying, the contrast in the room evoking a not-yet dessicated, bleached bone with black blood stains in its cracks, or the garish gleam of a gutter-coin, its edges encrusted with a dark gunk.
As malaise sets in, they instinctively ground themselves in the only certitude their life offers, the routine of work: he chops wood, she washes clothes. He is also seen punching new holes in the leather strap, perhaps to make the harness less constricting for a beast of burden which has seemingly resigned its post; when she hangs a white shirt which covers the entire screen, it looks like a final, wrinkled dingy flag of surrender, their own ghostly shroud of Turin, as it were.
'Got me a movie, I want you to know...wanna grow up to be a DEBASER!
On this second day, in walks a neighbor, looking like lead-Pixie Frank Black in a boa, singing his own song of debasement, as the daughter fills his brandy jug. Delivering an alternately lucid and inchoate treatise on dominance and the onslaught of beauty, similar to protestations throughout history by Socrates, Nietzsche, Caulfield, et, al, he decries a universe of acquisition-as-original sin, from which acquisition and debasement have always been the informing dialectic, in a world where nothing is true and everything is permitted, there for the taking by those who would, while the side of good vanishes -- apparently, not like the "pious" who disappear in the Left Behind series, nor the Randian drop-outs by "elites" of Atlas Shrugged, nor the "Human Project" of Children of Men -- it is perhaps instead the abdication of responsibility, in a world where Mankind devours himself, and Nature abhors a vacuum.
Conjuring up a Nietzschean theme from The Will To Power about the potential for religion to reduce the natural to the contemptible, he quickly outlines a theodicy taking into account "Man's own judgment, his own judgment over his own self, which of course, God has a big hand in, or, dare I say, takes part in. And whatever he takes part in is the most ghastly creation that you can imagine." Ready for his close-up, he resumes his song of debasement-through-history, as it were: "Because you see the world has been debased. So it doesn't matter what I say because everything has been debased that they've acquired, and since they've acquired everything in a sneaky, underhanded fight, they've debased everything. Because whatever they touch (and here Ohlsdorfer puts his hand on the bottle) -- and they touch everything -- they've debased. This is the way it was until the final victory. Until the triumphant end. Acquire, debase, debase, acquire. Or I can put it differently if you'd like. To touch, debase and thereby acquire, or touch, acquire and thereby debase. Its been going on like this for centuries. On, on and on. This and only this, sometimes on the sly, sometimes rudely, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, but it has been going on and on. Yet only in one way, like a rat attacks from the ambush. Because for this perfect victory, it was also essential that the other side, that is, everything that's excellent, great in some way and noble, should not engage in any kind of fight. There shouldn't be any kind of struggle, just the sudden disappearance of one side, meaning the disappearance of the excellent, the great, the noble. So that by now the winners who have won by attacking from the ambush rule the earth, and there isn't a single tiny nook where one can hide something from them, because everything they can lay their hands on is theirs. Even things we think they can't reach but they do reach, are also theirs...." After another 200 or so words, he concludes, and Ohlsdorfer gruffly admonishes him: "Come off it! That's rubbish!"
Audience laughter, I am silent. Clearing our throats after this scene, the sound is husky with inactivity; this is a silencing, hypnotic film, and we measure the intervals of time passing with dry, un-blinked eyes. What follows is one for the ages: declining to defend his points any further, with a benign shrug and a drop of coins onto the table, off he goes, back into the snow-globe of doom; seen from the window pausing and taking a swig before continuing headstrong into the punishing gale, he is a kind of tambourine-man of the apocalypse.
Another, final, visitation from the outside world begins via a simply classic, long shot of a carriage on a horizon marked by a lone barren tree, two white horses winding through the serpentine road at a thunderous pace. The daughter sizes the visitors up as gypsies, and her father, with a natural, casual presumption, dispatches her to dispose of them, and without delay. The gypsies, heard in detail but seen only from middle-distance as they carouse and drink from the well, taunting the daughter, are almost cartoonish. The father comes out of the house wielding an ax, offering a free appendectomy, and after inviting her to come with them to America, they give her a book as payment for the water, rear their white horses, and off they go in a swirl of wind and admonitions to the father:
"The land and the water are ours! You are weak! You are weak! Drop dead! Drop dead!'
They depart, leaving them literally in their dust, the daughter emerging like a torch-less lady liberty, aswirl in dead leaves, the Gypsies' "Drop dead!" chant heard for a few chilling seconds after they leave.
Immediately after, we see a close-up of potato scraps being cleared, after which we see the book and a mug of salt on the table, as we hear the sound of running water, slowly coming to a trickle, then a final drop. The daughter picks up the book, which reads like The Bible -- or Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra -- in its indictment of the self-proclaimed practitioners of God's word, and what they hath done with same, finding in their very deeds a kind of death (vanquishment?) of God as it were. As she slowly makes out the words, we are hanging on every syllable; even the hyphens in the subtitles are hypnotizing and dramatic during this climax of sorts, the girl reading, the sound of her hand on the pages, the narrator, the music, the storm outside. The next day the well is dry. Ohlsdorfer decides they have to leave.
In a departure which feels in many ways like the end of the film, father, daughter and horse (now unbridled, as the daughter pulls the cart) flee on the fourth day. Not long (relativism prevailing) after they gorgeously vanish over the horizon like three blades of grass, they re-emerge, newly-sprouted (rejected?) from the earth, apparently forced to abandon the road, newly aware of an ever-growing circumscription in their once completely knowable domain.
Putting away their artifacts (their cart appearing powerfully archaeologic), they already seem like ghosts, and the daughter's face, seen through a window, impends death. Manifesting a newfound awareness, Bók transforms into one of Edvard Munch's lost femmes, as she see stares from behind the glass, her head seeming to hover, as if transmitted holographically, fading after a few beats, into an incredible big-screen after-image.
Tarr does windows, 2012: from her to eternity...
Like accidental Cartesians, their awareness is now stripped down to a single flame, and as they try and re-light their lantern (evoking a magic lantern, and the thought that this could be Tarr's last film), we get a living breathing exposure, a swelling negative, once again turning the entire cinema into a darkroom, the disruption of which is unforgivable, but silently endured, as someone checks their cellfone. The lantern will not light, even though it is full. A moment later, the daughter notes that even the embers have gone out.
Daughter: Father what is all this?
Ohlsdorfer: "I don't know, but please throw a potato at the head of the inconsiderate schmuck who, expecting the end, turned on their cellfones during this scene."
Would that it were -- like Woody Allen wishing he could materialize Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall I find myself wishing I had an extra spud to lob, though I would never want to waste it.
Ohlsdorfer: "Tomorrow we'll try again"
In the last scene we see the father eating a raw potato, János again perfectly measuring out his character, delivering a subtle twinge as he, in his animal consciousness, realizes his station by what he is chewing. The daughter (perhaps in an end-of-days reversal of the myth of the forbidden fruit?) declines her father's instruction to eat, sitting mute, eyes fixed on a small point, ignoring the fact that their table now seems to extend into the very blackest corner of the cosmos.
"We've got to eat" he says. I contemplate the utterance of these words -- the very words which have preceded self-justified treacheries innumerable throughout time immemorial, and in fact, by characters in a few Tarr films -- by a doomed man, and also, how the word "got" itself etymologically stems from the earliest manifestations for the word "God", from the Norse, meaning that which is summoned, and this perhaps saying something about our priorities, and by extension our slow, gradual, collective fate.
To ask how such a minimal film can be so enveloping, is to answer one's own question. Suffice to say, we are sent back into our prior lives transformed by The Turin Horse, which -- as a doomsday film must -- gives one cinematic pause to reflect on existence itself. Call it I-Max for the soul, suspending the bombardment of our senses and re-channeling our hyperawareness to the grain between the grain during the moments between the moments, before the final moments.
The Cosmic Wirtschaft of Béla Tarr: A Mighty Wind
"Cosmic wirtschaft" ("wirtschaft" meaning economy) is the term used by the local party-spy doctor in Tarr's Satantango, as he contemptuously describes the relegation of personal responsibility to outside forces by a group of individuals. "This dull inertia leaves them at the mercy of what they fear most, a cosmic wirtschaft", he writes as he of course, sells them out in his official duties as communist-party stooge. And in Tarr's universe, it is the inactivity of individuals which renders them helpless or victim to the activities of others possessing the wiles to act; it is this inactivity which leads to consent-by-forfeit to the dominance of institutions which ramp-up our collective fear and further inactivity, and worse.
In fact, The Turin Horse reminded me very much of the -- aptly-titled, given the comparison -- animated anti-nukes feature When The Wind Blows, whose two seemingly-blameless protagonists simply wait for a death which, had they lived a far less passive life, they might have avoided.
I found myself troubled by the extent to which I, at first, readily accepted that, given the hard life of a subsistence farmer, Ohlsdorfer was somehow inherently noble. But after all, he (like most of us, sadly) is a man who, if you ramped up his actions to a nation-state, would leave very little hope for the planet: he is not a good steward of nature, he is steeped in patriarchy, and he would rather disembowel a stranger than give him water (the Gypsy scene brings to mind Christ's line about God not overlooking the sharing of even a cup of water to the least of his followers). When he calls bullshit on his neighbor's spiel, it finally occurs to me that perhaps he is part of the problem; perhaps even the fact that he can only use his left hand, which is viewed by many religions as the hand of sin, seems telling. (And by way of wacky, Wiki-wandering, the only remaining wild horses on the planet are the Dzungarian horse, "Dzungarian" meaning from the left side of Mongolia)
If we, for a moment, conceive of The Turin Horse as an actual doomsday film, discovered by a subsequent civilization, we can imagine they might infer that too late does the man realize that woman is not his servant; too late does he realize the horse is not his property -- and they might guess, depending on their cynicism and their own flaws, that he probably never realizes Gypsies aren't his enemies, though perhaps he is contemplating this and many other things as he waits for the end.
Returning now to our times, although this film is a devastating micro-experience (with macro implications) of EOTW, it's imperative to note that according to the date of the events of this film, the Apocalypse never arrived -- the twentieth century did. Our survival through this past, wholly suicidal century is a genuine miracle, not to be squandered, nor counted on to repeat.
Tarr Wars: Revenge of The Gypsy
While Tarr's aesthetic -- his incredible staging and sense of bodies in motion in relation to each other and his unfailingly earnest eye are inevitably reflective of the fact that he and his parents are lifelong theater-folk, he is also partly a product of his times, or put in context, he was 22 in '77. His own familiarity with persecution (starting with his very first film, about Gypsies, shot at age 16) has enabled him to emerge as a unique spokesperson with Cine Foundation International.
In an interview with Fergus Daly appearing in the Facets.org DVD of Damnation, he speaks of State intervention in his own life, and art, and a dream (of being a philosopher) deferred, then recouped manifold, after officially being prohibited from philosophical inquiry: "They stopped me for a political reason, because we made an 8mm movie about a gypsy worker's group in Hungary who had sent a letter to the boss of the community party saying "Please, we would like relief from the country. We would like to go to Austria because we cannot live here anymore. We have no job, we have no food, we have nothing".
And while Tarr notes in this interview that he eventually found a way to work with a small film co-op, when asked, he claims he is not now, nor has he ever been, as it were, a philosopher in life, nor in cinema, having abandoned this aim after shooting another film about a family in a worker's squathouse and being arrested by "very brutal and aggressive" police.
In the service of outgrowing our passive, collective expectation of miracles, Béla Tarr himself is given the last word, herein -- to wit, his statement on the imprisonment of filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, their lawyers and many others:
"Cinematography is an integral part of universal human culture! An attack against cinematography is desecrating universal human culture! This cannot be justified by any notion, ideology or religious conviction! Our friend, brother and esteemed colleague Jafar Panahi is in prison today, based on conjured and fictional accusations! Jafar did not do anything else than what is the duty of all of us; to talk honestly, fairly about our own country and loved ones, to show everything that surrounds us with tender tolerance and harsh austerity! Jafar's real crime is that he did just that; gracefully, elegantly and with a roguish smile in his eyes! Jafar made us love his heroes, the people of Iran; he achieved that they have become members of our families! WE CANNOT LOSE HIM! This is our common responsibility, as despite all appearances we belong together."
The Turin Horse is currently playing in New York at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, CLICK HERE for info.
CLICK HERE for a list of theaters around the country where The Turin Horse is playing.
The Turin Horse will be playing for an additional week at Cinema Village, you can find out more HERE.
In recognition of so many high-quality performances by horses this year, the folks at the Oscars have decided to create a special category, "Best Performance By A Horse (Male or Female)". This year's nominees include the horses in Melancholia, War Horse, The Turin Horse, and a very special posthumous nomination for the horse in Spain's Oscar-entry, Black Bread. Competition is, as one might guess, neck-and-neck, and not without controversy, as apparently the horse in Melancholia said something about National Velvet which was misheard as "national socialism", while a grainy, 8mm blue version of Lady Godiva, featuring the horse from War Horse has surfaced, though his widow says "That it is not him in the film. And I should know". The horse appearing in The Turin Horse said that if he wins, he will still dedicate his Oscar to the horse from Black Bread, adding that he will be "too choked up to give a speech" if his film is called.
CLICK HERE for my year-end round up of live music performances I filmed at festivals and around my beloved New York City, including Gil Scott-Heron, Prince Rama, Florence & The Machine at Bonnaroo, Beak, Moby and Inyang Bassey, Kings of Convenience, Eminem, Anna Calvi, The Strokes, Bootsy Collins, !!!, Beach House, Capybara...
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