I would be lying if I said there was nothing good to say about this most recent film from Hungary’s master of molasses-paced miserablism. The film is beautifully photographed in black and white, and some of the camera movement is an amazing display of technical virtuousity. Also, at a mere 146 minutes, it’s considerably shorter than some of Béla Tarr’s work, but, best of all, Tarr has announced that he won’t be making any more films. This is the best news I can imagine, though the truth is that I had already decided it would be his last of his film as far as my participation as a viewer. I’ve seen three of his movies. That’s more than enough. Now, it’s only fair to note that there are people in this world who find these movies profound and consider Tarr to be one of the greatest of all filmmakers (and that we should all grovel before his greatness). If he’s a great filmmaker, give me an honest hack any day. I rarely say that I hate a movie. Hate is generally too strong a word to use — too much emotional energy to expend on a movie. I will make an exception with The Turin Horse. It put me in a bad mood for three days — and to no real point. I even briefly considered washing my hands of movies altogether (which would probably please some), but I got over that. The plain fact is neither Tarr nor his movie is worth giving that much power.
So what exactly is The Turin Horse? Well, it’s ostensibly tied to a story about Fredrich Nietzsche, but I think that’s a stretch — unless we’re to believe that the horse mentioned in the opening title is the same beast that ended up on the grim potato farm where the movie takes place. I suppose the case can be made, but this is one of those affairs where you could make a claim that the movie is about absolutely anything and no one could really disprove it. (Or prove it.) The first 30 minutes of the film are devoted to an old man (played with a complete lack of expression by frequent Tarr collaborator János Derzsi) driving his horse and cart home through a seemingly very localized windstorm. Then he and his equally expressionless daughter (another Tarr regular, Erika Bók) put the horse away, feed it and close up the barn. This is followed by her helping the old man change clothes. She then cooks potatoes, which they eat with their bare hands. (He uses salt.) Occasionally one or the other will sit and stare out the window at the barren landscape and the windstorm. Now, there’s only about two more hours to trudge through. This is about as exciting as things get. More potatoes are cooked and eaten. The horse, on the other hand, stops eating. Then…well, some say it’s art. In the words of E.B. White, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.” You are at liberty to seek alternate views.