BERLIN (Reuters) - It is the dark horse of this year's Berlin film festival - "The Turin Horse," Hungarian director Bela Tarr's relentlessly bleak, black-and-white study of an old peasant and his daughter, has some critics crowing.
Wed, Feb 16 2011, By Mike Collett-White
If it is the filmmaker's last picture, as he has declared, Tarr could hardly go out on a darker note. The Turin Horse, nearly 2-1/2 hours long, features Tarr's trademark long takes, barely any dialogue and even less in the way of plot.
"A Torinoi Lo" seeks to reproduce the monotonous rhythms of life for two central characters who appear to the viewer to be forsaken by god and man, so lonely and joyless is their existence over the six days covered by the film.
In a shadowy, bare stone farmhouse on a windswept plain far from civilization, little happens beyond the daily ritual of living -- drawing water from the well, eating potatoes, sleeping, dressing, staring from the window.
When the old horse refuses to move one morning, their sole source of income has gone, further adding to the forbidding sense of doom. A score of repetitive string music, alternating with the endless howl of the wind, complete the picture.
Some reviews of the movie have been glowing, and an informal poll of critics published in the Screen International magazine in Berlin shows The Turin Horse a close second to Iranian drama "Nader and Simin: A Separation" in the race for best film.
The poll is an imperfect measure of which competition movie goes on to win the coveted Golden Bear at the end of the festival, and several critics were underwhelmed by Tarr's somber swansong, but others raved.
"It is a shame to think of this heroically uncompromising director shutting up shop, but if he does, The Turin Horse is a magnificent farewell," wrote Jonathan Romney in Screen.
The official synopsis of the plot reads:
"In Turin in 1889, Nietzsche flings his arms around an exhausted carriage horse, then loses consciousness and his mind. Somewhere in the countryside: a farmer, his daughter, a cart and the old horse. Outside, a windstorm rises."
The German philosopher suffered a mental collapse in 1889, 11 years before his death. While the causes of the illness are not known, one story goes that he saw a man whipping a horse in Turin and ran to protect the animal before collapsing.
Tarr's film has little to do with Nietzsche and his breakdown except to use it as a way into the lives of the horse's owner Ohlsdorfer, a farmer, and his daughter.
Production notes published to accompany the film's premiere in Berlin said it was consistent with Tarr's "remodernist cinema that seeks to capture the rhythm of life in real time and to raise a sharp awareness of the moment."
Tarr summed up his message thus: "Their practiced movements and the changes in seasons and times of day dictate the rhythm and routine which is cruelly inflicted on them. The film portrays mortality, with that deep pain which we, who are under sentence of death, all feel."