This Hungarian film by famous director Béla Tarr had a very simple genesis. László Krasznahorkai, who later co-wrote the film, was retelling a story about Friedrich Nietzsche. The story is repeated as an introduction to the film: In Turin on January 3, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes upon the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse. Tarr wanted to know what happened to the horse. His last film provides a fictional account.
My decision to see this film was based merely on a personal interest in things made in Hungary. As I took my seat in the Friedrichstadtpalast theatre, the atmosphere was hushed and sombre, a bit like that minute or two before a very serious final exam when all eyes are on the second hand of the clock and pencils are poised ready.
First came the written introduction. Then, viewing the film, which was like trying to answer a question I was completely unprepared for because I had borrowed an outline from a friend without knowing it was from last year’s course when Nietzsche wasn’t covered.
In summary: A man and his horse battle through a storm with monotonous music in the foreground. This fight continues much longer than feels necessary to experience the suffering of man and, more particularly, horse. They reach a stone house and barn with a well, the only visible habitat in a dry and barren landscape. The wind roars, the music soars. The horse and cart are put in the barn. A woman helps the man change clothes. One arm hangs useless by his side as she buttons his shirt and pants. Over the next six days, she dresses her father mornings and evenings. She brings water from the well daily. The horse left in the barn seems to be sick. Each day she boils one potato apiece which they eat steaming with bare hands. Each day becomes more difficult as the well runs dry and the lamp oil runs out. The screen goes dark with father and daughter sitting at their table, each with a rock hard, cold potato. The End.
Appreciation of this film will depend upon your own personal expectations and interests. In an interview Tarr explains: The key point is that humanity, all of us, including me, are responsible for the destruction of the world. But there is also a force above human at work – the gale blowing throughout the film – that is destroying the world. So both humanity and a higher force are destroying the world. The Turin Horse won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear and the Competition FIPRESCI (Federation of International Film Critics) Prize at this 2011 Berlinale. Most probably this film will be debated among students and professionals who are familiar with the works of Tarr and Nietzsche, fans, who will search for references to Nietzsche in the shadows of black and white cinematography. As a student of business and finance, when I emerged gutted from the theatre, all I could think was thank goodness the sun is shining!