Bela Tarr Retrospective: Introduction

In my recent Short Film Saturday post I talked of a perfect introduction to Bela Tarr. As I will discuss in these and other pieces that form the retrospective on his works, in light of my bestowing upon him the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award, such assimilation can prove to be rather difficult. My baptism in his works was one by fire. Therefore, it’s always hard to try and think outside of your frame of reference to try and ease someone else in.

I at first toyed with the notion of going through his works, which are not as numerous as last year’s winner (Spielberg), chronologically. However, if I were to start at the very beginning, and I likely will head there at some point, we would discuss films that pre-date the metamorphosis of his aesthetic.

Bela Tarr is fascinating for myriad reasons, but one of the most apparent is that rarely has a filmography featured so strong a departure in style. Tarr’s early works in the 1970s were in the zeitgeist, which was stark documentarianism. Cinéma vérité was the vogue amidst a wave of talented Hungarian filmmakers. Starting in 1982 he became increasingly more stylized.

Satantango (1994, Facets)

Tarr was my doorway into the world of Hungarian cinema. It’s a culture I do like to explore periodically and have learned more about since being introduced to it through his eyes. What the chronological approach would seemingly negate is the veritable reason he won this award. It’s not that his earlier works aren’t good, there is in the scripting his essence. In fact, a title like Family Nest translated his insistence that all his films are comedy better than any others. However, his early films featured his voice speaking a seemingly foreign tongue. His real cinematic voice was not truly heard, did not differentiate itself, or make itself unique until his style broke off from its initial sensibility.

Some have referred to his hour-and-change rendition of MacBeth for Hungarian television, that was shot in two takes, and Almanac of the Fall as more transitional titles than ones that show the true power of his later style. However, if one watches The Prefab People and then MacBeth back-to-back it’s fairly staggering. You may not even realize it’s the same director. Whereas if you sample the Prologue from Visions of Europe you very soon know Tarr and if you see a famous tracking shot from Satantango, The Turin Horse or Werckmeister Harmonies you know it’s the same person.

So next week when I do return and write about a specific film, I will begin after the break and then if I feel so compelled I will backtrack to the beginning and deal with his earlier works before he revolutionized his own style.

The Turin Horse (2011, Cinema Guild))

While in each post I will focus on the specific film at hand when you have a writer/director who insists on challenging an audience, on letting us “use our eyes,” a man who also is disinterested in stories in the traditional sense, you will have running themes. Throughout his career, especially after he broke the mold, his films were creating thematic dialogues. The culmination of which was his masterful dissertation in The Turin Horse. When you have running themes there will be parallels between films to be drawn. I will try to keep those to a minimum and focus on the title at hand.

While Tarr got me into chasing down Hungarian cinema, I knew pretty quickly he had a unique voice. However, I soon also found out that his voice could have only been developed in the Hungary’s film culture, on the arthouse end of the spectrum, of course.

Like any filmmaker, Tarr’s work as auteurist as it is, is a collaboration. As he worked towards his reportedly last film the pieces started to come into place to solidify his style. The editing of Agnes Hranitzky since The Outsider in 1981; Fred Kelemen as DP for some of his later projects starting with Journey on the Plain; novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai had writing or co-writing credit on all of Tarr’s features starting with Damnation in 1988; composer Mihaly Vig has been on board since Almanac of the Fall in 1984. Together these people shared a commonality that helped to accentuate Tarr’s vision and bring it to the world such that it could not only be admired, but challenge the way it was intended to.

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Facets)

In the end, I got in my first revisit just in time to start this series on time. However, so as not to under-serve the challenge I’ve set for myself I decided on a true introduction piece to be followed by film-specific pieces. Tarr’s cinema is not one that is suited for “hit-me entertainment,” it insists you prod back and in deference to that fact, and out of respect, I will ruminate on Werckmeister Harmonies‘ mesmerizing and brilliant brutality a bit more.

To get a bit more of a glimpse into this creative mind, to see where he’s coming from. Here’s an excerpt from a piece he wrote called Why I Make Films, which he wrote during preproduction of Damnation:

Because I despise stories, as they mislead people into believing that something has happened. In fact, nothing really happens as we flee from one condition to another. Because today there are only states of being – all stories have become obsolete and clichéd, and have resolved themselves. All that remains is time. This is probably the only thing that is still genuine – time itself: the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds. And film time has also ceased to exist, since the film itself has ceased to exist. Luckily there is no authentic form or current fashion. Some kind of massive introversion, a searching of our own souls can help ease the situation.

Or kill us.

We could die of not being able to make films, or we could die from making films.

But there’s no escape.

Because films are our only means of authenticating our lives. Eventually nothing remains of us except our films – strips of celluloid on which our shadows wander in search of truth and humanity until the end of time.
I really don’t know why I make films.

Perhaps to survive, because I’d still like to live, at least just a little longer…

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My Ballot: LIONs for LAMBs and The OMIEs

As I indicated earlier, when there are public or open to membership voting that I qualify for, I will write a post here to discuss my picks and to publicize the poll. I have included two polls here.

They are both run by the LAMB, the Large Association of Movie Blogs, of which I am a part, or a member thereof. The first is Lions for the Lambs, which seeks ranked submissions in various categories. Since that closely reflects my BAM Award selections, I also included my Omie choices where I more closely considered “Oscar-viability” in my decision-making process.

LIONS for the LAMBs

Best Film

1. Django Unchained
2. The Turin Horse
3. Anna Karenina
4. The Dark Knight Rises
5. North Sea Texas
6. The Cabin in the Woods
7. Les Misérables
8. The Dynamiter
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
10. Kauwboy

Best Director

1. Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
2. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
3. Bavo Derfune North Sea Texas
4. Joe Wright Anna Karenina
5. Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Rises

Leading Male Performances

1. Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln
2. Hugh Jackman Les Miserables
3. Denis Lavant Holy Motors
4. Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe
5. Logan Lerman The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Leading Female Performances

1. Keira Knightley Anna Karenina
2. Tilda Swinton We Need to Talk About Kevin
3. Magaly Solier Amador
4. Noomi Rapace The Monitor
5. Erika Bók The Turin Horse

Supporting Male Performances

1. Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained
2. Samuel L. Jackson Django Unchained
3. Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables
4. Mikkel Boe Foesgaard A Royal Affair
5. Matthew McConaughey Bernie

Supporting Female Performances

1. Anne Hathaway Les Misérables
2. Samantha Barks Les Misérables
3. Gina Gershon Killer Joe
4. Sally Field Lincoln
5. Anna Gunn Sassy Pants

Best Screenplays

1. Patrick Wang In the Family
2. Bavo Defurne and Andre Sollie North Sea Texas
3. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
4. Laszlo Krasznahorki and Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
5. Tom Stoppard Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina

Best Foreign Film

1. The Turin Horse
2. North Sea Texas
3. Kauwboy
4. Holy Motors
5. The Raid: Redemption

As for the Ormies, as intimated above, it’s more of a snubbed award so here are my choices based on Oscar expectations. A few are admittedly wished-for surprises. These are open to anyone. Submit your choices here via email.

Best Picture

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Director

Tom Hooper Les Misérables

Best Actress

Keira Knightley Anna Karenina

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe

Best Supporting Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress

Samantha Barks Les Misérables

Best Original Screenplay

The Cabin in the Woods

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Foreign Language Film

Kauwboy

Animated Film

Rise of the Guardians

Documentary

Bully

Original Song

“The Big Machine” Safety Not Guaranteed

Top 25 Films of 2012: 10-1

I try to keep my mind as open as possible during the year, and as you start assembling a list like this you see there could be perceived slights. The fact of the matter is making this list was brutal. More than once I had to consider if I can stick to a previously made proclamation, more than once I jotted down additional titles to see if they could slide into the top 25.

10. Kauwboy

Kauwboy (2012, Waterland Film BV)

Few films can go for lyrical simplicity and capture it so well. Equally difficult is capturing the unspeakable wonders of childhood creativity and a young protagonist alone. This film succeeds in all those areas and more. It truly deserves a worldwide audience.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, Summit)

This film is one of the best heartfelt teen movies in quite some time. Yes, there was Easy A a few years ago, but that was primarily satirical comedy. There’s humor here but it’s mostly a drama, and has three characters you end up knowing and caring about a great deal.

8. The Dynamiter

The Dynamiter (2011, Film Movement)

I could’ve mentioned this for quite a few entries, but aside from all these films being quality pieces, this was really a year of tear-jerkers crowding this list. Making someone cry is one thing, but doing so and being all around great is something else. This film works so subtly and softly I never felt it coming, but when it hit, it hit so hard.

7. Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012, Universal)

The rip-your-heart-out-bawl-your-eyes-out emotions of the show are here cinematic, raw, in your face here and I for one love it. Some songs are redefined, others reinvented; the cast breathes new life into this classic tale.

6. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Lionsgate)

If there’s one genre that needs a jolt of energy every so often, it’s horror. The proliferation of horror films will continue, so originality and reflexivity need to be injected to keep it vibrant. This is one of the best films in the genre in years.

5. North Sea Texas

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

Here you see the benefits of festival-going, for had I not made a point of attending QFest in Philadelphia I wouldn’t have seen it. The limited release of this film never really came anywhere close to me.

Thus, I haven’t been fortunate enough to re-view the film, but I firmly believe what I said prior: this will stand the test of time as an important work.

4. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Warner Bros.)

I love Batman. I do. Had I not gotten bogged down, and behind schedule, I would’ve written a Hero Whipped about it. Nolan’s trilogy is brilliant, but mostly due to the way this one closes it. Enjoyable as the first two were, I always felt I didn’t like them as much as everyone else. This one I love a lot and was very emotionally involving.

3. Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (2012, Fox Searchlight)

This and the title that follows on the list are the ones that really grew upon thought. I never expected this to be such an emotionally involving experience and I was very glad it turned out to be one.

2. The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse (2011, Cinema Guild))

This film is about as perfect a swan song as you could want.

1. Django Unchained

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

I wrote a bit about this in the BAM Award Winners post. To summarize here: this is a film about slavery that’s as funny as it is smart, and as brash as it is enjoyable.

2012 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

In my 2005 BAM Awards wrap-up, I wrote how I was considering creating a Lifetime Achievement Award and giving it to Ingmar Bergman. The idea was to award him upon completion of his swan song that proved unnecessary when I saw Saraband and it was one of my favorite films of that year and he won Best Director.

It seems this prize has now come full circle as another great director has made what he claims (and right now I believe him) is his last film and it is a great one. This year’s recipient is Bela Tarr.

Tarr is a director I’ve come to know well. However, when I first learned of him and what many consider to be his masterpiece (Satantango) I knew nothing save for the plot of the movie, that it was very long and I had to see it. I went in fairly cold and there was a sort of kinship there. I connected and I got it. That connection extended through much of Hungarian cinema, but it started with Tarr and it started instinctually.

I’ve since come to learn about him, read writings on his work – perhaps what is most fascinating about him is he went from stark cinéma vérité to an aesthetic all his own of long takes, moving cameras, black-and-white minimalist existentialism that is unique in all the world.

I’ve tackled Satantango a number of times, I agree it’s a film that could be viewed annually but I haven’t in a few years and its time to change that. I’ve, of course, seen as many of his films as possible.

It’s one I want to watch all over again. For one thing that is certain is that he proves that auteurism is indeed a live and well. He’s a rare breed, and is also giving back to the cinema fostering artists and striving for aesthetic excellence first and foremost.

The one thing that in my experience I’ve found Tarr has in common with Bergman is this brilliant final bow, his being The Turin Horse.

Tarr’s cinema is one that has evolved and is as exacting as Bergman’s, though not as prolific.

A great filmography is one where many films stand out and apart; Tarr has that:

Hotel Magnezit
Family Nest
The Outsider
Prefab People
Macbeth
Almanac of Fall
Damnation
Satantango
Journey on the Plain
Werckmeister Harmonies
The Man From London
The Turin Horse

I’ve come to know Hungarian cinema in part because of Bela Tarr and admire it. I admire this man, his work and his vision. This admiration grows leaps and bounds when you add the fact that he’s trying to help ensure the future of the artform in his home country, and around the world.

A great filmmaker’s films will last forever, even greater is the man whose trying to ensure cinema itself lasts forever.

BAM Award Winners: Best Director

So both here and in Best Cast there was some revisionism over the years, however, rather than try and readjust things I’ll just let things stand where they are at current.

The Best Director category is an interesting one because it is usually, in the mind of many, inextricably tied to the Best Picture winner. There is a certain logic to that, however, they are two rather different awards when you boil it down. In Best Picture you pick the story and the production. In Best Director you are picking a visionary and the architect of a production. There are times when the direction of a film will outshine its narrative or overall impact or a story that is wonderful but handled with a rather invisible hand that allows splits to occur.

I have three such splits in 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2012 none of which I was hesitant at all about.

2018 Bo Burnham Eighth Grade

2017 Andy Muschietti It 

2016 Gareth Edwards Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

img_3464

2015 George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Tom-Hardy-George-Miller

2014 Daniel Ribeiro The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks (2014, Strand Releasing)

2013 Gavin Hood Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (2013, Summit)

2012 Bela Tarr The Turin Horse

Bela Tarr

2011 Martin Scorsese Hugo

2010 Christopher Nolan Inception

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2009 Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

2008 Tomas Alfredson Let the Right One In

Thomas Alfredson

2007 Timur Bekmambetov Day Watch (Dnevoy bazar)

Timur Bekmambetov

2006 Richard E. Grant Wah-Wah

2005 Ingmar Bergman Saraband

Ingmar Bergman on the set of Saraband (Sony Pictures Classics)

2004 Jacob Aaron Estes Mean Creek

Jacob Aaron Estes

2003 PJ Hogan Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 George Lucas Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

George Lucas (2002, Lucasfilm)

2001 Steven Spielberg Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks)

2000 Julie Taymor Titus

JULIE TAYMOR PRESENTS BOOK OF HER FILM 'TITUS'

1999 M. Night Shyamalan The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Sixth Sense (Hollywood Pictures)

1998 Steven Spielberg Saving Private Ryan

wpid-photo-sep-14-2012-622-pm1

1997 Neil Mandt Hijacking Hollywood

1996 Lee Tamahori Mulholland Falls

The Problems of Limiting Foreign Film Submissions (Part 1 of 2)

In my previous post, I wrote about how I would propose to alter the Foreign Language Film submission process. I am working backwards as now, in this post, I will address, with a little more support to back up my own hypotheses the issues that would be addressed if you were to allow select countries multiple submissions.

Essentially, the goal is as follows:

If you are a nation like France or Italy with a long and rich cinematic tradition, the selection process can prove volatile and complex. France, for example, submitted Of Gods and Men a few years ago. Its being snubbed, while an Algerian film with a similar subject, Outside the Law, making the shortlist caused quite a furor. Now, this is not to say that France being given more submissions would’ve gotten it to the shortlist, but being limited to one film invariably creates questions and doubts. Both nations made films about the colonial era, one was chosen and one wasn’t. Aside from the complaints about which nation a production really pertains to, it’s messy. Just search debates about selections and you will find trades reporting on them annually.

Now, I will grant that a multiple submission policy is altruism, and being realistic these things would likely still have happened but if France were afforded a handful of submissions, these incidents would likely have been lessened.

Erika Bók in The Turin Horse (Cinema Guild)

Taking any political extremism out of the equation, multiple nominees for some countries would also make some nations more inclined to take a chance. When Hungary submitted The Turin Horse last year, it was speculated in trades to have a slim chance due to the composition of the viewership and the nature of the film, and sure enough it wasn’t shortlisted. Not that Hungary has been especially prolific lately, and their last nomination was in 1988, but it’s a good example of a country that could’ve used an extra spot to pick what it thought was the best artistic choice and then gamble on a popular pick and/or one likely to find favor with American viewers.

Greece’s selection of Dogtooth a few years ago was seen as some as being silly, almost frivolous. Just it being described as gutsy made me want to see it. They were lucky in actually earning a nomination. I enjoyed it, but was equally surprised by its selection once I saw it.

With just one film allotted per country, as fair as that may seem, too many ulterior factors come into play besides is this really the best film, and some of the factors I suspected were echoed by others I asked. Other factors I hadn’t considered, that can be found mirrored in American films jockeying for Oscar nominations, also came to the fore.

The questions I typically asked were as follows:

At times, does the reputation, or lack thereof, of a director influence the selection?

At times, does politics, whether real or film, play a part?

At times, do films more likely to impress Oscar voters get selected over more artistic films?

Did you see (Title of film submitted by your country)?

If you saw it, did you like it?

Why do you think (Name of country) selected (Title of Film) Deserved it? Oscar-Friendliness? Both? Neither?

Here are some of the findings from Brazilians I asked, more nations will follow in the next part.

Brazil

With regards to Brazil, this is the nation where I will have the widest range of opinions. Aside from being a dual citizen, a majority of my family lives in Brazil so I was able to receive the highest number of responses here also.

When The Hollywood Reporter wrote-up the announcement they correctly cited O Palhaço (The Clown) as a domestic box-office success. Over 1.4 million tickets sold. That’s accurate, as ticket sales are the measure (especially for domestic films) and in Brazil that’s a fairly high total. I take no issue at face value with sending the domestic box office champion as your nominee. There are stories like wins for domestic films in Spain and Norway that are most definitely positives. Hollywood proliferates globally and for indigenous cinemas to be successful at home is very important.

The complications of selecting the box-office champion of the year arise when you have mixed reactions to the film in general. First, I will recuse myself from weighing in on the film itself (O Palhaço) as I have yet to see it. However, I admit I was a bit surprised by this choice as I had yet to hear of it. I saw one Brazilian title this year, which I thought was great, and heard of another one. Both made a decent splash either on the festival circuit or in the international market. With regards to the plot when I read of it, it seemed like a less actually political selection, but did entertainment politics factor? What besides the box office could’ve influenced this selection?

So what did my family and friends say in response to my inquiries regarding O Palhaço? They start off about as negative as a film receiving such an honor can get: “My husband saw it and thought it was horrible! According to him the movie must’ve been picked for a lack of options!” The lack of options isn’t something that’s necessarily supportable by empirical evidence. In 2012 two films either solely produced or co-produced by Brazil appeared in Berlin, 5 films either solely produced or co-produced appeared in the Cannes programs and 2 either solely or co-produced appeared at Sundance, so there were other Brazilian films with festival pedigree. Not to mention the fact, that having eligible films doesn’t always lead to a submission, as was evidenced by Luxembourg passing.

As I got more and more comments, the initial reaction that people were “Sharply divided” proved true. However, in Brazil’s case one of my suppositions seems to have played out, and that’s the reputation of the director. With O Palhaço the director is lead actor Selton Melo. It’s a passion project, those with negative views of the film argue it’s a “commercial for him.” So box office appeal and the fact that a respected actor took on a project does buoy the Oscar hopes of this film, and even those who like Melo fell on the side of those less than enthused by the film, and some even underwhelmed by this particular turn. However, Melo’s status only seems to be growing in Brazil, as he is also taking on a Brazilian-produced HBO series.

The clout, or lack thereof, of some distributors within Brazil was also reported to me as a factor that could keep more deserving films from being considered. This seems not too foreign when anyone who pays attention to Oscar races here knows how much money is involved in campaigning, and how certain directors, producers, and studio heads become favorites. It was also indicated to me that candidacy for the Brazilian submission may not be a cheap thing to make yourself eligible for, which wouldn’t surprise me either, but that is an issue that filters down to the national level and is beyond the purview of the Academy or any foreign body. However, the fact remains that many would attribute most submissions as being decisions that disregard aesthetics and if the film also happens to be good it’s a bonus, but it’s a powerplay. One response pronounced all that quite explicitly and even concluded in English stating “It’s all about business!”

Perhaps the most intriguing response I got was the one that indicated it’d be impossible to remove politics entirely since you’re asking countries to submit films, and I will grant that. It’s practically impossible to expunge when other productions and/or world events will cause protests. The nation submitting likely consciously or unconsciously affects voters, even if its just that a certain viewer has more of an affinity with one national cinema or another. What the ultimate goal of this plan, that I admit will likely never, ever occur, is to encourage more risk from national film governing bodies. Perhaps that encouragement would lead to more aesthetically forward choices that will get rewarded by the votership, or better yet bring the film to new audiences.

Now, according to my idealistic designs, Brazil as a prior multiple-nominee would receive three submissions. If that were the case, perhaps they’d be so inspired to take a chance on one of the remaining selections on something a little more free of influence. To paraphrase John Lennon, I may be dreaming but I know I’m not alone in hoping something like that would occur.

A Reading and Review of The Turin Horse

Erika Bók in The Turin Horse (Cinema Guild)

NOTE: A film like this warrants discussion beyond a typical review. While some relevant plot details are discussed they are not what I’d deem spoilers.

Béla Tarr. Perhaps one of the most daunting things to contend with when writing about him or his films is trying to encapsulate him and/or his work for the uninitiated. For to write this review solely as the fan and devotee that I am would not do for all who may come across this article. The read of the film that rang true to me became apparent very quickly. However, the prior question nagged me. So how do I go about it? Carefully and with explication but not what I’d classify as a spoiler. Recently, upon viewing Fata Morgana I tweeted that I was glad it wasn’t my introduction to Herzog and that it likely should’ve been the last film of his I saw. With Tarr there really only is baptism by fire I feel and I’ll attempt, aside from reacting, to give a bit of a primer for his work. My baptism by fire occurred by acquiring and watching his seven-hour epic Satantango while in college and I’ve been hooked ever since.

This is as good a place as any to discuss the pace and a few other trademarks of Tarr’s work. Tarr has shot only black and white for the past 30 years. He moves the camera beautifully and intricately at times while using very long takes. I counted shots in this film and came up with a similar number to reports I read: 30. The running time is approximately 146 minutes meaning the average length of a take of about five minutes when Hollywood has us conditioned to expect cuts every five seconds, depending on genre. All the cuts are good, some are wonderful and the pace works for the tale but is worth noting for those who are unfamiliar with his work. Gird your attention span!

With regards to this film, as I started to watch it what struck me is that it seemed like his own version of Jeanne Dielman. This allusion to Chantal Akerman is not completely my own Scott Foundas in a Facets symposium on Tarr made the comparison that made me want to see Jeanne Dielman in the first place. However, while he’s talking stylistically in terms of camera movement, mise-en-scene and blocking; here the narrative in many ways resembles in that in Jeanne Dielman in as much as the film most reveals its characters and their story in the slow but steady deterioration of daily routines.

The setup is fascinating in two ways: First, the name of the film refers to the incident wherein Nietzsche supposedly lost his mind, he so felt for a horse being beaten by his owner that he broke down in tears, intervened and embraced the horse and was never the same. The story then is really about the owner of said horse and his daughter, however, I’d caution you not to forget about the horse and the title and watch him and his arc and the relationship the family has with him. Second, in a structural consideration the inciting incident occurs in a voice over wherein a detached, unidentified narrator tells us what happened and that propelled an unseen Nietzsche into madness and affected the horse and the family in the long run.

The film is above all indirect, even when seemingly being direct, which is part of its brilliance. The film is about the inevitability of death but it’s not spoken about in certain terms. The bare minimum these people need to do to survive starts to deteriorate as does their ability and willingness to live, mostly due to said uncommented upon inevitability.

Perhaps what works best is that it really creeps up on you. These routines play out repeatedly, shot and cut a little differently each time such that the slight changes at the start might not be picked up but then you start to see them.

With regards to moments that are direct there are a few ways to interpret them. Perhaps the pivotal scene where there can be some debate is one wherein their neighbor comes over because he’s run out of Palinka (Hungarian fruit brandy). It’s human nature to want to hang your hat on something when watching a story that’s not traditional, therefore when watching a father and daughter just doing what they do in a desolate countryside in the middle of an unnatural windstorm you listen to the neighbor’s wild theory. Ohlsdorfer, the father, dismisses it as bull and some reviews as a red herring, I feel the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

You don’t have to know Tarr’s cinema to start to sense that there’s a metaphysical nature being applied to a mundane setting, a sort of allegory free of dogmatic restraints. The neighbor’s theory on what’s wrong with the world and life in general may be only his mad formulation but his view, like anyone else, is all he has and everyone’s seeking an answer, we may change it, we may not have one but anyone’s guess is as valid as the next to questions like “What’s the point of all this? What’s going on? Why am I here?” The neighbor’s theory may be vague and labyrinthine but part of what tips it towards truth for me is that he made it a specific revelation to each individual and not an externalized event. I know I’ve have been aloof in the theory’s description because I think it’s open to individual interpretation. My inference that it’s closer to fact or fiction falls in line with my final interpretation, which deals directly with how the film ends, which I will not reveal.

Similarly oblique is the passage read from a book left as a gift by a band of Gypsies passing through for some water. However, in that it speaks of defiling of the Holy Land and damnation, in short inevitability, so it works. It connects to a theme rather than offering and epiphany, yet I did have one. Only as I was just walking out of the theatre after the very short closing credits did I realize the last domino that needed to fall for me and it did and it made the whole thing that much more amazing.

The film keeps its cast of characters small and the location virtually unchanging. It’s probably too claustrophobic to be called a chamber drama. That sense heightened by the sound editing and mixing which plays the persistent sound of the wind at just the right level to unnerve you and will then drop entirely to bring in Mihály Vig’s dichotomic score, half-mellifluous and half-discordant.

Another thing that bears mentioning that there’s next to no dialogue. Yes, there is the neighbor’s extended monologue which gets a few replies, curses thrown at the gypsies and occasional exchanges between father and daughter but no scene I would call a conversation scene and it’s all the better for it. The lack of the spoken word invites you to participate in the film more freely, draw your own conclusions.

The actors János Derzsi, Erika Bók and Mihály Kormos are all brilliant. The main tandem do so much physically and with their eyes they scarcely need dialogue to convey their emotions and turmoil.

The only other plot point that really bears any discussion is the attempt the Father and Daughter make to leave their house. You are not told or shown why they don’t make it to some safer locale. You are left to speculate on it. I drew my own conclusion, you may draw a different one. It’s just one of the other great touches this film has. Again it’s something that fits in my reading for the story, in a film about the inevitability of death what escape can there be, really?

It’s a bit sad to have to say that not all directors are what you can call visionaries but Tarr is definitely one. What you see on display in The Turin Horse is the mark of an artist. There is a style and language all his own, which he has cultivated through the years. I love Hungarian cinema from what I’ve been able to see but at the start of his career you wouldn’t know just by watching one of Tarr’s films it was his, now his style is unmistakable and inimitable, unique in all the world. If this is truly to be his last feature what a glorious way to go.

The Turin Horse is a flat-out masterpiece. That’s not a word I use lightly. There are films I consider masterpieces but I did not proclaim them as such upon first seeing them. However, when trying to encapsulate my reaction that’s the first word that came to mind. It truly is, it’s sheer brilliance and believe me when I say that my stating several facts in the course of this piece does not detract from the experience of the film, it’s just a guide. Watching and immersing yourself in it is a lot more valuable and harder to describe than a few instances in the story. If you have decided this is the kind of film you’d like to see (it’s certainly not for everyone) it’s worth seeking out on the big screen.

10/10