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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Turin Horse [Blu-ray]
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 25 July 2012
What makes a great film?
The idea occured to me towards the end of this lengthy, apparently final work of Bela Tarr, in the small cinema screen where I saw it on its one meagre day`s release, a dozen or so of us there to watch it weave its rare spell.
Well, is it the overlapping backchat of His Girl Friday; Wayne`s eyes of depthless rage in Red River; the shadowy doorways, delirious camera angles and suggestively empty squares of The Third Man; or perhaps it`s the ecstatic tree fighting and wall climbing in Crouching Tiger...or the deceptively simple fables of Eric Rohmer? Yes! Yes, all that and more. You just need to open yourself to the possibility that there might be some way of filming `life` that you haven`t seen yet - or at least not in such a way before.
This is my first exposure to Bela Tarr. I have been longing to see one of the Hungarian`s films since I heard they existed, especially having lived for two years in Budapest, and therefore interested in anything emanating from that strange and exasperating country. I sat engrossed and riveted, despite a two-and-a-half-hour running time, and its grudgingly unhurried pace. But if you are at all used to `slow` films (but what, after all, is a `slow film`...?) you will no doubt be as spellbound as I was by this stunningly beautiful black-and-white tale, whose impetus comes from a (true) anectote concerning the philosopher Nietzsche, who witnessed a horse being whipped, which appears to have brought on the breakdown that led to the insanity of his final years. After a voice-over telling us of this `backstory` - a voice-over which we hear once or twice again during the course of the film, and whose dramatic sense is the only element of such an innately visual film I would call into question - we see not very much of said horse and a great deal of its owners, a Mosaic man and his gaunt, dutiful daughter - played to perfection by Janos Derzsi and Erika Bok - just about ekeing out a livelihood in the seemingly permanently gale-torn Hungarian plains in the late nineteenth century.
However, the opening tracking shot - at least five minutes long, but totally compelling in its beauty and stark immediacy - shows the long-suffering horse hauling the one cart owned by the couple back to their spacious but sparsely furnished farm. These are some of the most moving images I have seen in any film - and, incidentally, reminded me a little of the wonderful horse sculptures of the American artist Deborah Butterfield.
But this is not in fact a film about horses, but rather concerns the harshness of rural life over a hundred years ago, and its - I was going to say its beauty. But that would be a patronising mistake, for it is the director who is making beauty out of degradation, out of near-squalor, just as Goya did, or Genet, or any number of socially aware artists, and indeed there is something almost Dickensian in the film`s relentless concentration on the lives of the downtrodden, though perhaps without Dickens` redeeming humour. There are flashes of humour here, but they flicker and die with the pair`s unreliable candles.
Watching this leisurely film, many questions came to mind, such as the anomaly concerning aesthetic beauty/artistry and real ugliness/suffering, but surely that is all to the good. To emerge from any film armed with questions can only ever be a boon rather than a burden.
There are many kinds of filmmaking, many types of film. This is one. I was enthralled by The Turin Horse, and hope it will be seen by at least as many as wish to see it.
A rare and humbling masterpiece.
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on 16 December 2012
History has it that famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had his final mental breakdown in 1889 after he saw a horse being brutally whipped in the Italian city of Turin. This movie, despite its title and what some of the press material said, has nothing to do with that particular episode. In a windswept, cloudy, barren plain (the movie is clearly not set in Italy), an old man and his grown daughter live in a solitary ramshackle cabin, along with a work horse. We see them do their repetitive daily chores (for instance, she cooking or helping her father put on his clothes), barely speaking a word. Despite the accolades it received from some critics, this black and white, almost silent movie, seems rather pointless to me. As an exercise of style is does show some talent from the part of the director, but the film ultimately seems to have nothing to say (unless the movie is about the repetitive, pointless lives of many people in the lower rungs of society, but you can make a film about that theme without recurring to such artsy, off putting mannerisms). The director, Hungary's Bela Tarr, is a darling of the most avant garde film critics. I haven't seen many of his films; his previous one, The Man from London, was equally opaque, but marginally more interesting.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 March 2017
The quotidian and prosaic are fancy words for the mundane and everyday, things the peasant feels and endures. Or the beast of burden. Drudgery and sameness are the peasant’s lot rather than boredom, as boredom suggests a state of reflection that may lead to dissatisfaction, alienation. Reflection can be dispiriting, so better to just get on with it, to accept and not think.

Hungarian director Béla Tarr explores this condition here. The film is slow, methodical, deliberate, dull, mirroring the life it depicts. It’s also starkly beautiful, filmed in chaste black and white. Lacking major drama, small acts are amplified: the sound of splashing water, the cry of the wind, the look of light on a window sill or the shadows cast by objects.

A father (perhaps 50 years old or more) and his daughter (perhaps 25) live in a rural stone house. The surrounding landscape is barren and dusty, the wind constantly howling and blowing. They are isolated, neighbours scarce. There is no indoor plumbing. Their water comes from a well. They live with their horse, who is kept in a stable in the stone barn. There is no food but potatoes, and only hay for the horse. Their only luxury is pálinka, a traditional fruit brandy, often made from apricots, that originated in the Middle Ages in the Carpathian Mountains.

The horse is special. He is connected, they say, to the famous German philosopher Nietzsche who went mad. One day in Turin in 1889 Nietzsche beat up a hansom cab driver who was savagely whipping his horse. The cries of the horse must have pierced Nietzsche, broken him somehow. His rage was incandescent, bestial. He assaulted the driver and could have killed him — would have had he not been pulled off by others. He put his arms round the neck of the horse and sobbed. The horse was a physical entity, a sentient being with feelings. But it represented something more to the philosopher. In that moment it symbolised agony and suffering, universal hurt and pain. Or such was the interpretation of many afterward. Nietzsche was hospitalised thereafter and never fully recovered his mental faculties. How the horse came into the hands of the peasant is not known or explained. We are only told of the horse through narration at the beginning of the film.

The film takes place over six days. It is winter, the skies grey, the trees bare. Wind from an oncoming storm rages, blowing dust and leaves through the sky. The only shelters are the stone house and barn.

The days of father and daughter are uneventful, or filled with many small mundane events. They sleep, rise, dress, eat, do chores, seldom speak. Night falls, they light oil lamps, eat, go to bed, sleep again. The three constants are routine, sun and wind. Night follows day and the wind blows through each. Constancy and relentlessness: sunrise, sunset, the wind.

The father sits in the horse cart when the film opens, the Turin horse pulling him across the open landscape, the trees largely stunted and bent by the wind. The horse struggles as he pulls the man and cart into the wind, his head down, his breathing heavy.

They arrive at the stone house. Inside the daughter is waiting. The horse is taken to the stable, his harness and bridle removed. Here there is hay for him and warmth away from the wind.

The man’s right arm and hand are permanently damaged. They are useless. So the daughter performs many tasks her father can’t do or has difficulty with. One is dressing and undressing himself. He has trouble with buttons and boots. So she is steadfast in helping him each morning and night.

The interior of the stone house is simple: kitchen table, wooden stools, two narrow beds, a wood-fired stove. There is no sink, just a large metal tub for washing one’s face. No bathtub or indoor toilet. No electricity (in the year 1889). All is simple, functional, necessary.

“It’s ready.” These are the first words either person speaks to one another in the film. The daughter is telling her father to sit down at the wooden table. The potatoes are boiled and ready to eat. Only potatoes. No spices, greens, butter. It’s their meal every day, day and night.

They sit and eat vacantly, wordlessly. Whatever there was to say has been said in the past. Now silence replaces words. The room is cold. We know this because steam rises from the potatoes. Also, they wear coats. There is no heating apart from the kitchen stove.

When they do speak, as occasionally happens, it’s usually a command from the father. Fetch this or that, do this or that. The daughter’s speech in return is usually to acknowledge she has heard the command.

(This review from this point on may reveal more than you wish to know about the story. If so, it’s better to stop reading now. If not, carry on).

On the second day back the man wants to take the horse cart into the village. He harnesses the horse and hitches it to the cart. But the horse won’t move. He is stubborn and resists. The man gets down from the cart, but unlike the hansom cab driver in Turin, does not beat the horse. Instead, he takes him back to the stable, gives up on the idea of going into the village.

On the third day the daughter puts hay into the horse’s trough but he won’t eat. He also won’t drink when she puts a pail of water before him. Is he ill? It seems so. That same day seven gypsies in a cart pulled by two white horses arrive on the man’s property. He is incensed and chases them away with curses and an axe. But not before they can take water from his well. Before departing they give the daughter a gift as payment for the water — a religious book that talks about the destruction of the world.

The following day, the fourth day, the well has run dry. It is empty. A gypsy curse? We cannot be sure, but odd things are happening. A dry well, the horse not eating, a strange book given to them. What can they do? The man decides they must go, move, but where? The horse is too weak or uncooperative to pull the cart. They have a hand cart. They can pack it to the brim with some possessions and set off with it, the daughter pulling, the man pushing, the horse tied up behind the cart, walking with them.

They reach the crest of the hill beyond the property. A lone tree stands there, silhouetted against the stormy sky. We see four small shapes in shadow up there: the man, his daughter, the cart, the horse. They disappear over the rise and the film seems to end. But, no, it hasn’t. They return. Why? Who can say? Whatever it was they were looking for, perhaps they couldn’t find it.

The following evening the oil lamps in the house won’t work. They are lit, but soon afterwards the flame in them flickers and dies. The father reprimands his daughter for not filling them properly with oil. But she protests: all three of them are full. Another mystery they cannot solve.

The night is pitch black without the lamps, and during the night — the night of the fifth day — the storm and its violent gales pass. The following day the daughter won’t eat. Her father says she must, but she won’t. No hay and sustenance for the horse, no potatoes and sustenance for the daughter. No water, either. Maybe the book the gypsies gave her is correct. Perhaps the world’s destruction is imminent.

The world of the father, daughter and horse at least seems doomed. We can’t be sure how they can carry on.

What does it mean? What did Béla Tarr wish to say? If it’s an allegory, I think it must be one of struggle and futility. Water may be in the well, but, if so, you have to keep going back for it, bucket in hand, day after day, week after week, and so on. If you don’t, you die. The days come and go, sustaining us. But eventually the light will fade, just as one day the well will run dry. The light in fact does not fade, because the sun goes on shining. Likewise, there will always be water on Earth, the water planet we happily call home. But a time is coming when you will not see the light, taste the water, so in effect they will no longer exist, at least not for you.

Finality — that’s where all our days are headed. And here in the daily routines and rhythms of these peasants we see theirs headed there too. Maybe dwelling on this is also what drove the sensitive Nietzsche mad. At least he cared for the well-being of sentient beings, horses included.
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on 12 May 2015
The most boring film I've ever endured.
Trying to be artistic, just rubbish. I watched the whole thing in fast forward just to hurry it up, it still took 40 mins.
If you want to watch nearly 3 hours of people sitting around not talking this is the film for you.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 August 2013
Bela Tarr's 2011 uncompromising masterpiece The Turin Horse is a hugely challenging, devastatingly beautiful and highly rewarding meditation on the end of the world. Shot in just 30 astounding takes, the 146 minute film charts the last six days in the lives of a stableman and his daughter in a farmhouse set in the middle of a bleak windswept plain. The film's intellectual backbone is set out at the beginning with the recalling of the story of Friedrich Nietzsche about him witnessing a cab driver cruelly whipping his horse in a Turin street because the animal refuses to move. Deeply shocked, the philosopher rushed to protect the animal only to fall into insanity after his landlord had guided him back to his room. Now, the stableman and his horse in Bela Tarr's film may or may not be the same cab driver and horse. That is irrelevent in a way. What is important is that we need to grasp what the name 'Nietzsche' connotes. He is most famous for proclaiming (in The Gay Science) that 'God is dead' and that Man is therefore free to live his own life. Nietzsche viewed humans as belonging to one of two classes: those of the aristocratic morality who are endowed with qualities of nobility, truth and bravery; and those of the slave (herd) morality whose traits are submissive - humility, sympathy and benevolence. His idea of the perfect Man is a synthesis between these two opposites in the Superman (Ubermensch). Naturally however, of course it is the master morality that dominates Nietzsche's utopian idea of Mankind as they are the most likely to have developed the vital will-to-power. This is where his philosophy becomes elitist. Everywhere in his work he displays scorn towards mediocrity, against the herd morality. Like it or not, it is the herd morality that is by far the most common and that is exactly what confronted Nietzsche that day in the Turin street. His insanity (Tarr and his writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai appear to be saying) was the direct result of being confronted by the absurdity of his Superman ideal and it is the consequence of Nietzsche's thinking on those of the herd morality (the majority of us mere mortals) that is the central subject of Tarr's film. Those few endowed with an active will-to-power may well prosper in a Godless universe, but as the drunk says when he bursts into the farmhouse later in the film, the non-existence of God for the herd also means the non-existence of a sense of good and evil, in essence Man's loss of humanity. Most humans (who possess a weak will-to-power) are unable to make their lives meaningful without the sense of something higher than themselves there as a guide. Life without a 'God' is therefore too horrific to bear for the majority and Nietzsche's only response to this realization is a retreat into insanity - life became simply too heavy for him to take. In interview Tarr has said that in The Turin Horse he wanted to make a film about "[this] heaviness of existence". As we follow the daily grind of the poor lives of the father and daughter (the herd) we realize that there is something wrong with the world, that in a sense it has been destroyed. Tarr also said "the key point is that the humanity, of all of us [sic], are responsible for the destruction of the world. But there is a force above human [sic] at work - the gale blowing throughout the film - that is also destroying the world. So both humanity and higher force [sic] are destroying the world". Bela Tarr's film would therefore appear to be a long desperate howl of despair at the decline of spiritual values and the meaninglessness of life where Mankind repeatedly ignores the existence of God, insists he has the freedom to choose his own life, but (because they are mainly of the herd morality) inevitably fall into the rut of the daily routine of everyday life so clearly shown in the narrative.

To me the very blasphemy of this viewpoint is made clear in the film by it's division into six days which suggests the narrative constitutes Chapter 1 of Genesis no less, but in reverse. In the bible God created the world in six days only to rest on the seventh. In the film God destroys the world in six days mainly because the characters refuse to acknowledge Him. Gradually the Man and the Woman lose their claim to rightful existence. They are already poor at the beginning of the film, the man's right arm is paralysed and he seems to have been reduced from a possibly more prosperous prior life to his current lowlife as a rural cab driver. The next day the horse wont move and at a stroke the pair are denied a livelihood. The horse would appear to take on the same significance as the dead whale in Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) as it silently oversees (causes?) the destruction of the world around him. Then we have a visit from a drunken neighbour who tells them of the destruction taking place in the nearby town (another parallel with Werckmeister Harmonies) and who bemoans the lack of God equalling the lack of a value system. We follow the Woman as she repeatedly gets water from the well. One day she and her father shoo away a group of gypsies who try to drink for themselves. The gypsies claim that water should be for everyone and that denying it amounts to an act of blasphemy. Sure enough the next day the well runs dry. In Genesis God gave water, in the film he takes it away. The Man and Woman's food consists of one potato per meal which now they can no longer even boil. The Man and Woman attempt to leave their now uninhabitable house and (in one astounding take mainly shot through a window) we see them beaten back on the horizon by the elements (by God himself). The next step is that God denies them light and the film finishes with an astonishing sixth day as the Man and Woman sit opposite each other across a table, inert, completely beaten. The Man says "we must eat", but can only manage one little bight of his raw potato. The Woman sits motionless. The gale outside has stopped, it is pitch black, God has ceased to exist and with him Mankind has ceased to exist as well.

Anyone reading this might think the film is pretentious miserabilist reductivism, and it has to be conceded that Bela Tarr has hardly been universally accepted by the film world. Admirers have made comparisons between him and other uncompromising directors such as Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky and Theo Angelopoulos. While it's true to say that if you know and like these directors then Tarr is probably for you, I don't neccessarily agree that his cinema is like theirs at all. All three of these directors have a strong sense of religious faith burning through their work. With Tarr we have the sense that he has given up on the world, and that he thinks God has given up, too. This puts Tarr into an unique class all of his own. Hence the reluctance of some to accept him I suppose. For me though, I have to say I find his films incredibly rewarding personally. I can't explain why this is, but perhaps Tarkovsky's words from his book, Sculpting in Time apply best here. Tarkovsky always said that his films were so simple that even kids could watch and enjoy and that instead of responding intellectually we should respond emotionally. That really is the key to understanding Tarkovsky's films, and I think it also holds true for Bela Tarr. Watching The Turin Horse we are hypnotised by the mesmerising long takes (like the opening 10 minute blinder of the horse being driven down the road), the astonishing Mihaly Vig minimalist music (more Arvo Part than Philip Glass I'd say) which drills itself into your brain, the incessant howling of the wind as God batters his creations to the very limits, the incredible skill of cinematographer Fred Keleman's b/w compositions, the committed performances (Janos Derzsi as the old man looking every bit like a biblical soothsayer, and Erika Bok as the suffering daughter trudging to the well every day), Mihaly Raday's narration (written by Krasznahorkai) which (along with the music) gives the whole film a sense of ritual, and then of course Bela Tarr's uncompromising direction (Agnes Hranitzky is given a co-director credit along with her usual editing). In the world today perhaps only Michael Haneke and Abbas Kiarostami have the balls to make such a raw uncommercial statement about life, completely bleak, but searingly honest and perceptive of what lies at the heart of the human condition. The film shows the end of the world, but sadly, it also shows the end of Bela Tarr, for he has said this is his last film. This might seem apt when looking at the subject matter, but actually the film was begun in the mid 1980s with a treatment completed in 1990. The film was delayed to make Satantango (1994) and then two more films before being realized. Surely the great man has more films in him. If we really have seen the last of him then it's sad indeed, for there really isn't anyone else quite like him in world cinema today.

This Artificial Eye DVD is top notch, the transfer very fine indeed. I also applaud the inclusion of the short film, Hotel Magnezit which shows Tarr's origins as a documentarist with its story of an old man being evicted from a hostel in which he has established his home. I wish more of Tarr's earlier films could be more widely released as they throw a different light on all his films made post-Damnation (1988). Bela Tarr is an extraordinary director who I'd strongly urge anyone interested in contemporary cinema to try. Not everyone will buy into his cosmic bleakness, but for those strong enough, his films are essential viewing.
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on 10 December 2014
Nietzsche sounded as if he would have a walk-on part in The Turin Horse (2011) by the Hungarian director Bela Tarr but this slow-mover is a meditation on more than that famous moment in a Turin street when Nietzsche about to lose his sanity was consumed with pity for a fallen cab horse. Filmed in thirty long takes, it opens with man and horse in a brutal struggle against a windstorm that won’t abate for the rest of the picture. Tarr’s characteristic black and white penetrates to their souls. In fact we never see a town, or another dwelling, just the bare homestead and stall where the pair return each day. The carter, paralysed in his right arm, is cared for by his daughter. This all-consuming wind flays their existences bare. Next morning, and forever, the horse won’t move. The well dries up. The mare stops eating. The fire won’t light.

Nietzsche doesn’t walk in as himself, but arrives in a roundabout way as a desperate lame neighbour who has run out of brandy. A man at his wit’s end sits at the wooden kitchen table and rants. His speech has a Zarathustran intensity without a breath of lyrical respite. Human existence is beyond good and evil. Good and evil don’t figure. The nature of life is a merciless eternal recurrence, but I don’t want to put published words into his savage mouth.

As the story of Nietzsche’s end in Turin – his last message to his mother, ‘Mutter, ich bin dumm’ ‘Mother, I am stupid’ – has been told to us in the opening minutes we know the year is 1889, the conditions of which are conveyed by the only other social intervention in the tale, the passing of a coachload of revellers, pulled by a splendid pair of greys. The excursion party are celebrating their decision to emigrate to America, to escape the poverty that’s befallen swathes of European agricultural life from the Lowlands of Holland and Belgium (see below for why I choose this example) to the Hungarian puszta. They help themselves to water from the not yet dry well. A thoughtful member of the party gives the daughter The Good Book, as the father chases them off. She struggles to read Christianity’s age-old response to the desperation of the brandy-seeker, and to the contempt and the sadness of the now benighted philosopher.

But, as I say, this is not only a film about Nietzsche and the very word ‘about’ is misleading. Nietzsche’s amoralism is this film’s substance. It’s the reason why the camera is slow and merciless and disconcertingly beautiful as Tarr takes visual cues – I think – from the sometime Nietzschean Heidegger. Now that’s also what I want to emphasise: there’s another philosophical presence here. You could play a game with this film and close your eyes and try to name all the everyday objects on which the lens dwells: the wood of the table and the bottle upon it; the upturned stopper and the glass, the plate on the table and the potato within it, the axe in the hand and the splinter of firewood on the floor. If you’ve read Heidegger’s 1935/36 lecture ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ you’ll know it features such lists: the material conditions of the simple life, baldly and barely stated, although not at all without joy, for all materiality is a prelude to, besides being the condition for, art happening. Materiality happens as art, sometimes, and when it does the sense of our being among beings, among animal and mineral as well as human kind, emerges. Stands forth, Heidegger would say, in what for us is a kind of ecstasy when we consciously live in co-being. With Nietzsche mad and the Good Book in the hands of the stupid who think their lives will be redeemed across the Atlantic, Tarr explores this stark anti-theology which has only the event of art left. But no, that’s not right, for there is normally human routine, which is another prelude to Ek-stase. We see routine here in all its heavy and beautiful monotony, as each day the daughter helps the father to dress and undress, and tacks up the mare and hitches her to the cart, and unbridles her again, unbuckles the crupper and slides the bolt on the stable door. Being-here, Heidegger’s Dasein, is the pitchfork that lifts the soiled straw, and the wooden wheelbarrow that trundles to the compost heap, and the eye of the horse, and the hay in the manger. It’s the bucket, and the water in the bucket, and the drops that fall when the horse refuses to drink. Read the rest of this review on lesleychamberlain.wordpress.com. Lesley Chamberlain is also the author of Nietzsche in Turin (1996).
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on 3 March 2013
The Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's last film `The Turin horse' is based on a story of how the German philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche witnessed a cart driver beating a horse, and threw himself in front of the animal to stop the beating. According to legend, this event signaled the onset of a mental breakdown from which Nietzsche never recovered.

Set in the 19th Century, in a remote and unknown place lives a man, his daughter and their horse. The story is based on the last days of the horse, old and weary and physically exhausted as his owner. Theirs is a harsh and unforgiving existence, living on nothing more than water and boiled potatoes, and the occasional glass of plum brandy. The horse refuses to eat or work, which threatens its owner's livelihood.

`The Turin horse' is pared down to the minimum, individual scenes are shot in great length. The rigours of life are shown in all its isolated detail, little happens, little is said, little can be done. Its difficult to look beyond this, which i think is what Tarr was trying to evoke. The trouble is that its an incredibly difficult proposition for anyone to experience it, its not even a depressing film but the lack of anything of interest other than this empty existence and the windswept landscape is hard to sustain. Tarr shows you the arduousness of their life and what such an existence was like, as stirring as this daily routine is it will test your patience. There is only so much poetry that can be drawn from the emptiness and the struggle of survival, perhaps Nietzsche's mental breakdown was no surprise?

What does lift this film is the exquisite black and white photography, the best i've seen since Michael Haneke's `White Ribbon'. The lengthy opening shot of the shattered horse pulling his owner through a howling path is stunning, as is the score that accompanies it. `The Turin horse' will divide many people, and it will most certainly test the patience of the majority, for the few who survive you may be rewarded.
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on 12 January 2017
A magnificent film.

Most of the repetitive 'action' takes place in the interior of a one room dilapidated farmhouse and focuses on the almost entirely wordless interaction between the crippled farmer and his impassive daughter as they go about the tasks of the day. The daughter fetches water from the well, dresses her father; they knock back palinka, he chops firewood, they eat their potatoes and they harness the horse to the cart. Except that one morning the horse refuses to budge. The routine continues regardless except that a couple of unexpected and unwanted visits and a series of inexplicable events seem to presage a winding down of their very existence.

The film is beautifully shot in black and white and the performances by Janos Derzsi and Erika Bok as father and daughter are quite extraordinary.

If you like lengthy contemporary films shot in black and white with almost no dialogue, repetitive scenes and even more repetitive unsettling scores then you'll love it!
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on 12 January 2014
As a confirmed fan of Bela Tarr I came to this anticipating another example of his soulful, intelligent, aesthetically beautiful cinema. Maybe my expectations were unrealistically high, because I have to admit, I found this to be rather disappointing.

Not that it fails to deliver the aforementioned qualities. Compared to his best work however, this one felt below par to me. It's definitely not the best place to start if you are new to this director's films and in fact many might well put off many exploring his work at all. Personally, I'd place it at the bottom of his list. That said, bear in mind that the list is comprised of masterpieces of the highest order (in my opinion). So my three star rating reflects a disappointment that is strictly relative. This is still a fine film. It's just an awfully hard-going cinematic experience and exceptionally bleak vision of human existence; an exercise in poe-faced existentialism which is so unrelentingly minimalist in style that it veers dangerously close to self-parody.

The director's trademark stylistic characteristics are all in place: the sequence of long slow takes; the fusion of naturalism and carefully choreographed staging to induce a meditative space for the audience to experience a recreation of the world in which apparent verisimilitude is presented with a formal beauty that suggests visual poetry. Top quality cinematic craftsmanship at the service of an unflinchingly tough but soulful look at humanity. A complete disregard for the priorities of commercial entertainment in order give us a memorable experience which is at once visceral and contemplative.

But damn, watching this thing is hard-going. With a minimal cast, single location and repetitive action, repetitive soundtrack (the music is tonally an equivalent to the howling gale pervading the scenario throughout) and minimal dialogue, the narrative is essentially a Beckett-like reductive situation in which characters in extremis gradually (very) are compelled to adjust to declining circumstances until their grim survival boils down to tenacity of spirit in the darkness. It's like a grim, alcoholic, cynical joke about spiritual poverty/cosmic plight. Without a laugh track.

But then again, if you're up for it, sit back, relax, pace yourself and enjoy the grind.

I think basically my gripe is that in this, supposedly Tarr's final film, he's reduced/refined his style to the point where, rather than being a summation, the limitations of his artistic vision are suggested. It seems a pity for him to bow out with what feels like something akin to stylistic formula. I can't believe a man this talented will and sincerely hope he won't because I for one, am always up for another Tarr flick. Even below-par Tarr.

P.S. The Artificial Eye DVD release includes an excellent short documentary by Tarr that looks like it might have been made for Hungarian T.V. This is a really compelling little thing and suggests that a compilation of his documentary work (of which I've seen nothing) would be well worth seeking out --if such a release exists.
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on 26 February 2013
This is the strangest film I've ever watched. It's in black and white, virtually no speaking (sub-titled). Very atmospheric. It's a long film and the climax is so slow in arriving that it keeps you wondering where it's going for the duration of the film. I must admit I did find it challenging to stick at but I was in the mood to watch it and I had no interruptions. The haunting thoughts it provoked stayed with me for days afterwards. So many unanswered questions. A very powerful film. You'll either love it or hate it.
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