A Torinói ló (The Turin Horse) is one of the ten films of the Official Selection of the LUX Prize 2011. It is freely inspired by an episode that marked the end of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s career. On January 3 1889 in Turin, a weeping Nietzsche flung his arms around an exhausted and ill-treated carriage horse, then lost consciousness. After this event the philosopher never wrote again and descended into madness and silence. From this starting point, The Turin Horse goes on to explore the lives of the coachman, his daughter and the horse in an atmosphere of poverty heralding the end of the world.
The film won the Silver Bear (Grand Prix) in the Berlinale 2011 (February 10-20). Its Hungarian director Bela Tarr claimed that this, his bleakest of bleak films, is his swan song to cinema.
A Torinói ló was also in competition for the 30th Istanbul Film Festival (April 2-17) and the Copenhagen’s premiere film festival, CPH: PIX (April 20-May 1). It was screened in the Marché du film in the 64th Cannes Festival (May 11-22).
The Turin Horse opens with an anecdote from Nietzsche’s life, read over a black screen. The story is that Nietzsche was walking the streets of Turin and encountered a driver of a hansom cab having trouble with his horse. The horse wouldn’t move and the driver started whipping it. Nietzsche intervened, hugged the horse and started crying. After the incident he went crazy and lived for another ten years, taken care of by his family.
Perfect framing of the black-and-white photography, long takes, dramatic music covering even the most banal scenes and very little dialogue – all these characteristics of Tarr’s work are present in The Turin Horse. If the Hungarian auteur always shows us the world at its bleakest and most desperate, here he seems to have gone to the absolute extreme. There is not a glimpse of hope in The Turin Horse, and as Tarr said at the press conference, "Kundera wrote of the unbearable lightness of being. This film is about unbearable heaviness of life."
The film’s French co-producer Marie-Pierre Macia told : "The Turin Horse is magnificent, with a metaphorical dimension symbolising the end of a world, the end of a cinema. It’s Béla Tarr’s last film and perhaps the most radical of his works, which are always experiences, journeys. Whether the film is 15 minutes longer or shorter is of no importance to those who enter Béla’s hypnotic world. We’re very proud to have seen this adventure through to the end."
Hungarian maestro Béla Tarr described A Torinói ló as the last film of his career. Interview with the director of Damnation, Satan's Tango,Werckmeister Harmonies and The Man from Londo:
Where did you get the idea to start the film with the Nietzsche anecdote and what was the writing process like?
[My regular screenwriter] László Krasznahorkai was reading some fragments of his work at a theatre evening in 1985 and in the end he read the Nietzsche story that finished with this question, “What happened to the horse?” The question moved me. I spoke to Laszlo and we wrote a short synopsis. So, the horse has an owner and this owner is maybe as famished as the horse. There’s his daughter and somebody is falling out of this triangle. When one of them is out, the relationship is over. It’s really quite simple.But that was in 1990, when we were making Satantango, and we put it away. Then, we had a big crisis when shooting The Man from London and for a year we were trying to get the production up. It was very hard for me. Laszlo was very generous and he wrote the text for The Turin Horse. It was a prose text. We didn’t need to make it into a script. We had the concept and the dramaturgical structure. I don’t need a script. When we were looking for funding, we just sent that text to everybody.
How do you start making a film?
When you’re doing a movie, you don’t do theories. I just look for locations. A location has a face – it’s one of the main characters. So I found this little valley in Hungary and the lonely tree. There wasn’t a house, we had to build it. I hate artificial sets, so we made a real house out of stone and wood. We also built the well and the stable.
This is your bleakest film yet. Why did you decide to make such a dark film?
The Turin Horse is about the heaviness of human existence. How it’s difficult to live your daily life, and the monotony of life. We didn’t want to talk about mortality or any such general thing. We just wanted to see how difficult and terrible it is when every day you have to go to the well and bring the water, in summer, in winter... All the time. The daily repetition of the same routine makes it possible to show that something is wrong with their world. It’s very simple and pure.
Do you feel this heaviness yourself? Is it a reason to end your filmmaking?
No. All the films we [Tarr and regular collaborators Krasznahorkai, Ágnes Hranitzky, Fred Kelemen and Mihály Vig] have done are a part of a long process. In my first film I started from my social sensibility and I just wanted to change the world. Then I had to understand that problems are more complicated. Now I can just say it’s quite heavy and I don’t know what is coming, but I can see something that is very close – the end. Before the shooting I knew this would be my last film.
What is the book the Gypsies give to the daughter?
It’s an anti-Bible. It’s about how priests close churches because people are sinning. We have to close the churches. We have to tear them down. In the text the daughter reads there are some references to Nietzsche, but the text is original, by Krasznahorkai.
The visitor is clearly a Nietzschean character, judging by his monologue.
He is a sort of Nietzschean shadow, we had to show that, but he had to differ from Nietzsche. Our starting point was Nietzsche’s sentence, “God is dead”. This character says, “We destroyed the world and it’s also God’s fault,” which is different from Nietzsche. The key point is that the humanity, all of us, including me, are responsible for destruction of the world. But there is also a force above human at work – the gale blowing throughout the film – that is also destroying the world. So both humanity and a higher force are destroying the world.
Is the end of the film your vision of the apocalypse?
The apocalypse is a huge event. But reality is not like that. In my film, the end of the world is very silent, very weak. So the end of the world comes as I see it coming in real life – slowly and quietly. Death is always the most terrible scene, and when you watch someone dying – an animal or a human – it’s always terrible, and the most terrible thing is that it looks like nothing happened.