Over six days announced with titles on the screen, the man and his daughter speak infrequently and then briefly and abruptly as they endure harsh weather and savage wind, holed up in their isolated, small farmhouse. The longest exchange occurs when a neighbor arrives and asks for a glass of pálinka, a traditional Hungarian brandy. He departs quickly. One other interruption in their tenuous survival comes when gypsies stop to steal water from the well. Aside from that, the daughter dresses her father who has one useless arm, they try to feed the ailing horse that refuses food and drink, the daughter trudges up a barren rise to get water, and boils potatoes that they eat with their bare hands. That's it, as Tarr and co-director Ágnes Hranitzky express volumes about human existence through repeated actions and drawn, somber faces.
Tarr has said that he doesn't tell stories, but he certainly captures life with visual mastery. The Turin Horse begins with a shot that has been called among the best 15 minutes in film history. Seen from a low angle slightly above ground level, the horse struggles mightily to pull the farmer's wagon, a metaphor for life. The camera tracks backwards in front of the horse, always retreating. In other scenes, the camera follows the daughter from behind as she fetches water, tracks slowly within the cabin to close-ups of heartbreakingly sad, motionless faces, or sits still for long takes out a window showing a denuded landscape. The wind blows relentlessly, complemented by a dark score of organ and string sounds.
The back-story is that Friedrich Nietzsche exited his home in Turin, 1889, to find a horse being beaten by its driver. Tarr imagines these events as the subsequent days. The Turin Horse is an experience, difficult but rewarding, in Hungarian with English subtitles. The St. Louis premiere of The Turin Horse screens at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 17th through Sunday, February 19th. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at: Webster.edu/film series.