Review: The Turin Horse

Director: Béla Tarr
Screenplay: Béla Tarr, László Krasznahorkai
Producer: Gábor Téni
Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos
Runtime: 146 min.

A disclaimer of sorts is necessary for this review.

The Turin Horse is not a film for the casual moviegoer; cinemaphiles should not view the film with the company of a casual moviegoer, as said moviegoer is likely to obnoxiously grumble about “pretentiousness” and utilize “art house” as if it were a heinous insult; it should not be viewed by those with a proclivity for anxiety or depressive existentialism (unless they enjoy that sort of thing). The author and Row Three are not liable for any negative experiences that may befall those who choose to ignore the aforementioned criteria.

There is a “very famous” story regarding Friedrich Nietzsche’s descent into madness (or muteness, or internal solitude, or whatever other euphemism you find pleasing and/or likely) involving his witnessing the whipping of a horse while traveling through Italy. Greatly touched by the old horse’s plight, Neitzsche threw his arms around the beast’s neck to protect it from its master and sobbed … and finally collapsed to the ground, unconscious. It is said that Nietzche did not utter another word for the last decade of his life following this incident.

The Turin Horse does not tell the story of Nietzche’s last days. Rather, it provides us with a window into the life of the farmer (Derzsi) and his daughter (Bók) whose shared livelihood is tied to the aged horse. There’s a fine joke in there about the film following the horse, but alas I could not quite find it without taking away from a what amounts to a very prescient, very moving masterpiece.

To begin any real analysis of a Béla Tarr film without discussing the auteur would be … difficult, to say the least. Tarr has created some of the most honest portraits of the human condition, and The Turin Horse is no exception blending minimalism with realism perfectly. Comprised of between twenty-seven and thirty tracking shots (the number varies between sources), the viewer is given a beautiful yet haunting glance into the despair of the farmer and his daughter.

The narrative is pure and unadulterated, and the rich textures of the black and white feed into the subtle interactions between father and daughter. We are granted this voyeuristic vantage point by Tarr’s own opening narration, grasped by the raw cinematography, and surrounded by the melodic score … and never let go. Where many films will merely dip the viewer into the celluloid world, Tarr fully immerses the viewer.

Derzsi and Bók work well together, maintaining a gently intimate connection as father and daughter. The dialogue is fairly limited, yet rare is the moment when we are unsure as to the motivations and feelings of the two. Their body language and longing glances paints a picture that is far more easily understood than most words. Mihály Kormos plays the part of the Nitzchean nihilst, passing through and sharing his bleak worldview with the weary family. Kormos plays out as a self-aware joke of sorts, providing the viewer with a glimpse into the meaning behind the film prior to being shooed away and semi-ridiculed for his ramblings.

Ultimately, The Turin Horse is a film of open-ended psychological questions, begged through the lens of despair and change. It is unforgiving and quite difficult, yet rewarding and far more relevant than it may appear on its face. And grim has never been more beautiful.

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Jandy Hardesty

I’m pretty sure Tarr in general isn’t for the casual moviegoer. 🙂 I have to admit that I’ve tried and failed to make it through Sátántangó, though I’m determined to make it someday. I did quite like Werckmeister Harmonies, though. He’s certainly not a filmmaker for everyone, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. I haven’t really read too much about The Turin Horse, but my impression was it was getting kind of a mixed reaction. Glad to read something so positive about it!

David Brook

I should brave a bit of Tarr one of these days. Any suggestions for a good starting point? The length of Sátántangó scares me – is Werckmeister the way to begin?

Jandy Hardesty

It worked for me, David, but I’ll defer to Domenic – sounds like he’s got much more exposure to Tarr than I do!

Bob Turnbull

I too love “Werckmeister Harmonies” – the opening scene alone (and its gorgeous music) are reason enough, but the rest is pretty amazing too. The ransacking of the hospital is quite astonishing and provides an emotional kick.

“The Man From London” was less successful for me. Though equally as beautiful, it’s slow long takes just didn’t seem to add anything to the telling of the tale or the state of mind of the characters. Others disagree and think it’s equal to the rest of his films, but it kinda bored me (I resorted to counting how many takes there were in the 140 minute movie – 27 if I remember).

Haven’t seen Satantango yet – that’s been on the list for a long time now.


Oddly enough I’ve only seen Satantango (over 2 days). A movie which has moments i loved, moments that last for 20-30 minutes at a time, but at that length and length of shots, it can feel like you’re watching 35 different short films, some which are transcendent and others a slog. Afterwards anytime I’d close my eyes I would see mud and a creepy girl dragging around a cat in a sack.

David Brook

I got this sent over to review on Blu-Ray but didn’t post my review here as I don’t think I had enough of a different opinion to you or Jandy (she gave it a capsule review a little more recently).

Here’s my review over at Blueprint: Review though if anyone’s interested: