The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

How I feared and fought the Turin horse and finally gave him a hug

with 11 comments


I approached The Turin Horse with an equal amount of dread and determination.

I was prepared for a long and hard fight after all I’d heard about it. Apparently it was a movie that would put even professional film critics into deep sleep, and they if any should know the tricks to avoid being knocked out.

I had taken all measures against sleeping accidents that I could think of, balancing the amount of coffee I’d drunk with the size against the size of my bladder. You want to end up in the perfect spot between sleep and bio breaks during the screening. I had also chosen an afternoon screening, as far away from ordinary bedtime as possible.

The more I heard of the horse, the scarier it seemed to me. At the point it was time to see it, I was convinced it wold kick my ass, despite my efforts.

My fears
So what did I fear? Well it wasn’t the black and white format. I don’t find that off-putting at all; on the contrary I think t sometimes looks a lot better than colour. I wasn’t bothered about it being Hungarian either. As a Swede you’re used to watch most movies with subtitles to the degree that it has become a second nature. You don’t think about it.

What worried me most was the plot. Or should I rather say: lack of plot?

Two persons sitting in a small house in a godforsaken place, slowly eating potatoes, barely speaking a word with each other, barely moving at all, and the only thing that happens in the movie is that a horse refuses to walk. What I understood this non-walking was vaguely related to an incident in the life of Nietzsche, but that didn’t make it sound more thrilling. It seemed to me like a parody of an incomprehensible art house movie, unbearably obsessed with its own importance. The kind of movie that travels around the world between festival screenings, gets a ton of critical appraisal and awards, but a very little audience. I imagined that in best case, I would laugh at it for its ridiculousness, in worst case I would have enough after five minutes.

So why did I want to see it at all? Partly I think it was peer pressure. Or to put it nicer: openness towards suggestions. I had picked up from other bloggers that Tarr was an interesting filmmaker. Several loved him, others hated him, which raised my curiosity. I wanted to check out one of his movies and make up my own opinion. There was also something about the still images that attracted me. They were realistic, but with a flavour of added magic, reminding me of Bergman or Tarkovskij.

And then there was also the challenge. The more I heard about how hard it was to get through, the more did I want to. A little bit of vanity or competiveness if you want to put it that way. I saw it as a way to push myself to explore new territories. When I left the ticket to the usher, I felt as if I was entering the start position, making myself ready to run a marathon. I would show them!  I, the perpetual film snoozer, would make myself through this movie, if it so would mean that my body would be bruised from top to toe by all my pinching of myself!

You all know how it is with expectations. They’re deceptive and often in a bad way. The higher the hopes are the harder will we fall when we get something different.

But sometimes it goes the other way round. We enter a theatre expecting to be served something that tastes as unmarked leftovers you found in the bottom of your freezer and ten warmed up too quickly: watery, old and bland. And then it turns out to be the opposite: a tasty and beautifully crafted meal that doesn’t resemble to anything you’ve had before. It will stay with you.

This was what happened to me at The Turin Horse. To my own astonishment I went with it. I even liked it, maybe loved it, as crazy as it may sound. A part of me says: “People slowly eating potatoes and walking around in a sand storm with a stubborn horse? Give me a break!”

But somehow I got into it. It reminded me of meditation or yoga. At first your overheated brain, accustomed to an urban lifestyle, gets a shock and tries to get you out of there with all sorts of distractions. “This is SO slow. Why am I doing this? My feet are itching. Doesn’t it smell funny? How long are we going to sit here?” But then you change. Your breathing changes, you feel lightness in your mind and body and you lose interest to follow the countdown until it will be over. I watched them pealing their potatoes, talk to the neighbour, get water from the well and feed the horse. And in that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

What is the movie about? Is it an apocalypse, a movie about the end of the world, something taking place a few years before The Road? Or was it just a year with a bit of bad weather? And what does it all mean? Is there a hidden message in it to be decoded by people who know more about Nietzsche than I?

I don’t know. But I do know that I for some inexplicable reason loved The Turin Horse.

This is about as far as you can come from Star Trek Into Darkness, which I also watched recently, and yet I give them the same rating, but for completely different reasons.

What can I say? I love movies. All sorts of movies. Even those with horses that refuse to walk.

I just gave him a hug.

The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr & Ágnes Hranitzky, HU 2011) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

May 15, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Posted in The Turin Horse

11 Responses

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  1. Excellent! Very glad you enjoyed this. I agree, once you get drawn into Tarr’s hypnotic rhythm, time just isn’t a factor anymore. He is one of a kind. Hopefully you will one day catch up with his masterpieces: Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    May 16, 2013 at 5:21 am

    • Thanks Bonjour Tristess! Yes, it felt very much like running when everything clicks and you just breath your way forward. I will try to watch something more by him in the future, starting with what my library has to offer.


      May 16, 2013 at 7:17 am

  2. Fantastic piece!


    May 16, 2013 at 7:20 am

  3. I have tried watching it, but it was not for me and did not finish it. Happy to hear you got a lot more out of it!


    May 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

    • I can definitely understand that and I’m honestly a bit surprised it worked for me. I usually need a more compelling story to get involved.


      May 17, 2013 at 9:16 am

      • I don’t always need it (Samsara being a very recent example), but here I couldn’t take it 🙂


        May 17, 2013 at 1:41 pm

  4. Great piece Jessica. I’ve been eyeing this one up for a while but have had similar worries that you did about not being able to get through it because it’s apparently so slow. You’ve encouraged me to give it a go though 🙂

    • Don’t fear! Just load up with coffee and a very open mind and you may be surprised at what you’ll find! 🙂


      May 17, 2013 at 10:40 am

  5. I watched it in Budapest two years ago, without subtitles and in the presence of Bela Tarr, As you can imagine it was a special evening! And I liked the film, mostly because of the music I think.

    Fredrik Gustafsson

    May 18, 2013 at 12:20 am

    • Without subttles! At first look it sounds tough. But on second thought: they don’t really say a lot, so maybe it doesn’t matter that much. The presence of Bela Tarr certainly must have added coolness to the event!


      May 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm

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