tongue-tied lightning

Yawny at the Apocalypse (Three Rivers Film Festival: The Turin Horse)
November 6, 2011, 3:29 AM
Filed under: film | Tags: , ,

I wandered into Melwood Screening Room today tired, hungry and cold, mostly due to circumstances beyond my control (the coldness can be attributed to my thinking it was a good idea to leave my jacket in the car).  Which seemed in many ways the preferred mode of viewing for this particular film.  And, as I listened to the howling winds that constitute the majority of the film’s soundtrack, and watched our tired, hungry and cold protagonists toil away at Sisyphean tasks, I started to wonder if God did in fact exist, and possessed a finely tuned sense of irony.From it’s opening shot, The Turin Horse insists you submit to its rhythms.  A lengthy tracking shot accompanies a man driving a horse down a rustic country road accompanied by a lilting melody played on organ and strings.  The camera moves subtly yet insistently, from horse to driver and back again, probing them at different angles and establishing something of a rapport between them.  One informed by the opening monologue and that goes on to inform subsequent scenes.  It’s something of a microcosm of Tarr’s cinema, in which he so frequently takes what would be an establishing shot in someone else’s film, a landscape or a character performing a mundane task, extends it beyond all reason, and then just keeps on holding it until it metamorphoses into something greater in your mind.  This form of cinema isn’t for everyone, the woman behind me who began snoring shortly into the second of the films six days likely wasn’t the films target audience (it feels slightly dirty using a marketing term for what is clearly intended as capital-A Art), but for those who can appreciate it slow cinema can often approach something transcendent.  And I think that is Tarr’s aim.

He begins by establishing the routines of the films’ protagonists; the horse-driver, his daughter and their horse, who early on seems to decide that he’s too old for this shit.  They are recounted in such painstaking detail that when they are ultimately disrupted it inspires an unsettling cognitive dissonance in the viewer.  Omnipresent is the howling of gale force winds, inspiring a sense of claustrophobia in the viewer and, thanks to exquisite sound design, pummelling us whenever a character decides to wander outside their tiny hut.  From time to time the repetitive score (more of a motif than a score really) rises again, methodically hurtling us all towards our inevitable doom.

But, for me anyway, the joy in watching Tarr is in admiring the counterpoint between his bleak apocalyptic visions and the vital beauty of his meditative camera movements and painterly shot compositions (filmed beautifully in black and white).  Although his philosophy sometimes seems nihilstic, the film uses Nietzsche’s life as a touchstone, his films inspire in me something approaching Janos’s ecstasy as he contemplates the cosmos in the opening of Werckmeister Harmonies, a sense of ontological meaning in art.  And while I missed that films’ surrealist grace notes, The Turin Horse is perhaps more impressive on a formal level.  Tarr has repeatedly claimed he intends this to be his final film, and it’s hard to picture a more appropriate swan song.


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