Joshua Reviews Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse [Blu-ray Review]

There is not a living filmmaker quite like Bela Tarr.

With what has been billed as the auteur’s final film, The Turin Horse, finally available on Blu-ray via the latest brilliant release from Cinema Guild, a long, iconic and influential career has now allegedly come to a conclusion. And if that is true, one must consider this one of the greatest and most important career-concluding features ever committed to celluloid. It’s the walk off home run to win the World Series. It’s the Hail Mary pass to win the Super Bowl. It’s Jordan’s step back jumper to end his career with the Bulls.   It’s the Beatle-esque rooftop performance to end all cinematic rooftop performances.

Labored analogies aside, Turin Horse is yet another collaboration between the trio of director Tarr, composer Mihaly Vig and writer/novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai, and follows the story of a tattered and aging cab driver and his daughter, as they go about their daily lives. With a brutal storm raging outside of their door, the pair are privy to what is, at its core, the most pure of pure apocalyptic narratives. Clocking in at damn near two-and-a-half hours on only 30 complete shots, the film takes a spin on the story of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Turin Horse (which has been attributed as the moment in which the philosopher began losing his mind) turning it into a beautiful, brooding and dread-filled look at, as the director has so brilliantly put it, ‘the heaviness of human existence.’

While admittedly not much truly ‘happens’ during the film’s runtime, it’s easily one of the year’s most enthralling feature films. Sizing up at only 30 takes, the film is lusciously shot in stark black and white, oozing Tarr’s admitted Tarkovsky-esque aesthetic that is after far more cosmic ideals than anything as simplistic as the relationship between a father and a daughter. With the viewer becoming privy to the pair’s everyday life, the changes that occur become as tense and on edge as anything found in a David Fincher thriller.

Both a story about creation and destruction, the film is broken up by ‘days’ (the first, the second, the third, etc.), the film’s strongest aspect is its visual style. Tarr has become best known for his long and plaintive takes, this film being no different. Immersing the viewer in both the bleakness and the monotony of these people and their lives (be it undressing or going to get water from a well), the film pairs the tension within the house so beautifully with the complete degradation outside of the house’s doors that it’s as stunning as a tornado tearing through an empty field. Vig’s score is as perfectly paired with the visuals as any composition this year, and Fred Kelemen proves to be one of this generation’s strongest black and white photographers.

Starring basically only the pair of Janos Derzsi and Eirka Bok, the film relies entirely upon their sturdy, work horse-like shoulders, and thankfully they are as strong willed as the man and woman they portray here. Derzsi’s face is one that screams Bela Tarr, seemingly being shaped and molded over the years to thrive in this type of picture, and Bok’s slight and slender frame adds to the overall sense of impending doom and continual tension within the picture. The film does admittedly lack a true emotional center, at least when it comes to being connected to this pair, but that doesn’t seem to be a worry upon the mind of Tarr. Again, showing us the weight with which our lives push down upon our mind, body and soul, from the opening shot of a horse laboring through his journey to the last sequence, Horse has far different goals on its mind. And like a hard gust of wind right to the stomach, this feels as vital and as powerful as anything you’ll encounter this year.

And it couldn’t look better on Blu-ray. Cinema Guild is responsible for this release, and it’s one of the better and more important home video releases of a recently released feature in quite some time. The transfer is gorgeous and the score sounds pitch perfect, and the supplements could not be more fantastic. The release includes a short film from Tarr, Hotel Magnezit, as well as a great, but far too short a commentary from critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. There is a press conference included here from Berlin 2011, as well as a dialogue with Tarr shot in 2007. The tiny booklet also features an essay from J. Hoberman, and all of this is wrapped up in a beautiful case with stunning artwork.

It’s been said before that a release is a ‘must-see’ or a ‘must-own.’ Hell, we’ve been known to say that very thing her on this very outlet. However, that statement is rarely as true as it is when connected to this film. Easily one of 2012’s greatest films, it’s a final hurrah for the film world’s most singular auteur. And now it’s one of the year’s greatest home video releases.

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