This is how the world ends

Bela Tarr

Film-maker Bela Tarr

I saw The Turin Horse directed by Béla Tarr at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Tarr says it’s his last film.  This is no warm farewell like Fanny & Alexander(Ingmar Bergman’s last film) or The Tempest (Shakespeare’s last play).  It’s dark, so dark that it makes The Seventh Seal look like a Simpsons’ episode.

Like Seventh Seal it’s allegorical, and perhaps a bit heavy-handed.  I think we forgive a film-maker for being obvious when he has something important to say.

The world we see in The Turin Horse is a world of people who are all takers.  A man beats his horse: purportedly the same horse Nietzsche saw beaten before he went mad.

Mankind is not shown in a very sympathetic light in Tarr’s valedictory.  Nature has been abused to the point that the land is a barren wasteland, such as we’d find in King Lear.  There is no kindness or gentle feeling, only exploitation, cruelty, ethnic hatreds (just in case what we’d already seen weren’t enough!) and a kind of desperation underlying everything.  While it sounds somewhat pointless to read in this synopsis, the 146 minute experience is stunning in its cumulative effect on a big screen.  Although one can see where it’s going, that’s also true of a good book or symphony.  The inevitability only adds weight to the effect.

The score by Milhály Víg is like obnoxious Philip Glass: which is to say it has repetition without variety, only suggesting futility and defeat, and none of the meditative calm one feels from Glass: which is surely a deliberate effect.

In the talk-back session afterwards Tarr told us what’s missing from that mythological world of his film, as he spoke of his desire to work with young film-makers, possibly founding a school for young film makers.  He wants to be the “umbrella” under which they shelter.  He spoke of the need for tenderness.

TIFF logoTenderness, of course, is precisely what’s missing in this world he showed us, a world that beats its horses, while sucking an entire world dry.

The Turin Horse repeats at TIFF on Sept 16 and 18th.

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