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Movies You Missed 51: The Turin Horse 

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This week in movies you missed: The most boring film I have ever seen is also one of the least forgettable.

What You Missed

Hungarian director Béla Tarr is beloved by cinephiles for his long, long films featuring long, long takes. Scott Tobias of the A.V. Club calls The Turin Horse one of the best films of 2012 so far.

In 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche descended into madness. People knew he had gone off the deep end when — according to legend — he attempted to embrace a horse that was being savagely beaten by a cart man on a Turin street.

Nietzsche never recovered. But what happened to the cart man and the horse?

Well, the cart man (János Derzsi) goes home. He puts the horse in the stable. He and his daughter (Erika Bók) eat boiled potatoes. She looks out the window (pictured). The wind blows around the house. They go to bed. They get up. She hauls water from the well. The wind blows around the house. She dresses her father. They bring the horse out of the stable. The horse refuses to move. They put the horse back in the stable. The wind blows around the house.

This continues for six days. A few other things happen.

Why You Missed It

Two and a half hours. Thirty shots total (see the first here). Black and white. Released in three U.S. theaters.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Here's a recreation of my internal monologue while watching The Turin Horse. (Warning: ends with a quasi-psychotic break à la Nietzsche.)

Hour 1:

"Wow, this is a long shot. Must have been incredibly hard to do. Looks great. Nothing happening yet.

"Oh my God, finally! We've arrived somewhere. A house. Maybe the story starts now.

"No story. Just people going through their daily routine. Well, I knew what to expect. Soldier on. I need to be able to say I saw one movie by this guy, and at least it isn't the seven-hour epic featuring cat torture.

"No way! Our first line of dialogue!

"Being poor in the 19th century sucked. I'm counting the shots now. Something to keep my brain occupied.

"I give up. I didn't get Meek's Cutoff, and I don't get this. I'm not a cinephile, I'm a philistine. Why, why, why does everyone think that long, wordless shots of people doing back-breaking manual labor equal Great Art? Is it because we do all our labor at keyboards now? Is hauling water exotic to us?

"I admit it, I like action. Sometime I even like explosions. Stop torturing me with these people and their horrible lives and the wind that never stops blowing! Aaaagh!"

Hour 2:

"OK, I think I'm starting to get what Tarr's doing. By showing us the same things over and over, but from slightly different angles, he's training us to notice the tiniest differences.

"And to find them sinister. When someone finally knocked at the characters' door, I practically jumped out of my seat. It was like a huge climax full of explosions in a Hollywood movie.

"This would make awesome buildup for a horror movie. If the teen target audience hadn't walked out an hour and a half ago.

"Why is the wind still blowing? Has Italy ever been this bleak in the history of the world? Why are they speaking Hungarian in Italy?

"Look, guys, there's something wrong with that horse. I get it; you don't have a vet. It's the 19th century. Still, maybe it's time to look for other jobs. I bet there are factories opening up somewhere. Dad, you're getting old, but Daughter could do something, even if it involves working in a brothel like in Crime and Punishment. At least she'd meet interesting people that way.

"But then she'd get syphilis, just like Nietzsche. Being poor in the 19th century sucks."

Hour 3:

"No, scratch that. Being sucks.

"Oh, shit. Oh, no way. What just happened to their well? This is a thousand times creepier than that zombie in the well on 'The Walking Dead.'

"I get it now. I totally get it. This is not a movie about 19th-century peasants or the nobility of doing back-breaking labor till you die. This is actually the unofficial film adaptation of The Road.

"The shots are getting a little shorter now. I think the camera is exhausted, too. It can't take much more of what it's seeing.

"Oh, no. Things aren't going well for these people. Not at all.

"Oh, horse. Oh, please, horse. Don't do this.

"Wait. What? Why?

"Oh shit!!!! The wind ... has stopped ... blowing."

Verdict: We have a new frontrunner for most soul-crushing film about the end of the world ever made.

You think that stuff with the "Liebestod" and Kirsten Dunst wandering around naked was depressing, Lars von Trier? You think your pastel apocalyptic reverie even began to convey the unendurable futility and even less endurable brevity of human existence? You think you freaked us out with your visions of time destroying youth, love and happiness in Irréversible, Gaspar Noé?

Hah! Turin Horse, bitches. Turin Horse.

In a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival (included as a special feature on the disc), Tarr refers to the human will to get up every morning and keep living as "pathological." Someone else describes the film as being "the end of cinema."

Neither of those statements makes sense. And both make perfect sense to you after you see The Turin Horse.

That does it. I'm seeing The Bourne Legacy this weekend. All those explosions and split-second Cuisinart cuts will remind me that life is still full of exciting awesomeness, and nobody has to live on boiled potatoes anymore, at least not in Vermont.

End of cinema? Hah! Right? Right? Is that the wind blowing?

Other New Releases You May Have Missed

  • Bel-Ami (Robert Pattinson hooks up with older ladies in a period piece.)
  • Blue Like Jazz (Young Christian struggles to fit in at his liberal-arts college.)
  • Full Signal: The Hidden Cost of Cell Phones (You always knew they were evil!)
  • Girlfriend (Young man with Down syndrome becomes the benefactor of his high school crush.)
  • Last Days Here (Underground metal legend Bobby Liebling tries to return to the stage.)
  • Marley (Bob Marley bio-doc from director Kevin MacDonald.)
  • Warriors of the Discotheque (doc about Dallas' Starck Club, a hot spot in the days of legal Ecstasy)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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More by Margot Harrison

About The Author

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.


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