THE BLOG
11/09/2011 01:38 pm ET Updated Jan 09, 2012

The Turin Horse (A Torinói Ló)

This film was viewed at the 34th Starz Denver Film Fest, which is still going on - you should GO! Check out Donnybrook's ongoing coverage HERE.

The Turin Horse is like a caricature of the "film festival film": Beautifully-made. Desolate. Hungarian. Nihilistic. Obscurely tied to Nietzsche. Over two hours long. Windy.

It's about a depressed horse, but it's also a portrait of a widower and his daughter, struggling to survive an existence without color, art, meaning, emotion, conversation, or food other than boiled potatoes. Six of the eight* words uttered in this film are "fuck." The trailer for the movie is simply a long shot of a lantern going out. Each scene is a fantasyless, eyes-taped-open stare at the tedious, futile struggle to survive.

So one day Nietzsche was in the marketplace in Turin and saw a stubborn horse being whipped by his owner. Nietzsche threw his arms around the horse to protect it and started sobbing, and promptly went crazy. This is that horse's story.

For each detailed account of each long day of difficult work, absolutely nothing is accomplished, and the only changes are Bummer City. Maybe around Day Three, the well dries up. The man and daughter and horse pack up all of their belongings to leave the house forever. They drive uphill in the wind in their carriage, only to inexplicably turn around, come back to the house, unpack all of their belongings, and stay -- no explanation provided. Then the screen cuts to black and we think it's going to end (as every moment is heavy with fatalism), but instead there are stark white words: Day Six. The audience groans audibly. Just when you can't stand it any longer, the lingering shots get even longer. A single tear of condensation rolls slowly down the brandy bottle, for twenty entire minutes*.

After about two hours in withdrawal from anything happy or shiny, the mind starts to do strange things. Like a person in pain whose mind reverts to beautiful meadows as a means of distraction, the brain is suddenly filled with phantasmagorical visions of burlesque aliens on ecstasy, covered in rainbow sprinkle icing foam party orgy sparkles. Something. Anything!!!!!!!!!

Now the lanterns won't light, even the unending wind outside is silenced, and they must live cloaked in darkness, eating boiled potatoes. Only they have no appetite. So they sit at the table in darkness, staring.

This might sound like a bad review, but this seems like exactly what legendary Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr (and co-director Ágnes Hranitzky) had in mind for his last film. Perhaps the most torturous aspect is that the film is so compelling to look at, so impeccably made, with plot points interspersed so perfectly, that there is no escape. You can't not pay attention. Typically in a story when, say, a gun is introduced, the tension increases -- you know something bad is going to happen with that gun. In such a spartan plot as this, a simple book is introduced -- a holy text, no less -- and it has the same heavy, tension-building effect. Those really long shots are insanely hypnotic, most notably the opening scene where the dark horse is dragging the carriage in the wind, or the crazy-eyed-bearded-widower-eating-potatoes scene. It's creepy. You can't look away. Despite all the tedium, for all my efforts I still couldn't fall asleep. I just couldn't!

So in conclusion, I'm glad I saw the film, but I'm even more glad I'm not currently watching it. I would give it a really good rating, but I just killed myself (because what's the point?).

* Perhaps a slight exaggeration