The Turin Horse
Plot: A man and his daughter share potatoes as their horse dies over a period of 6 days.
Stunned. You watch a Bela Tarr movie, and that's really the only way you can feel. And this, along with being his starkest and most minimalistic, is possible his most stunning. If you've never seen any of this Hungarian director's movies, here's a statistic that will let you know what you're in for:
This movie is 2 hours and 26 minutes long, and it contains only 30 shots.
If you're a fan of the long shot like me, you'll appreciate a movie where the shots average five minutes. If you're a fan of boredom, this is also the movie for you. This movie is almost relentlessly boring. The father and daughter, who other than some gypsies and a neighbor who are in a pair of scenes, are pretty much the only characters you get, and there's nothing superficially dramatic about anything that is going on. You see the duo engaging in the same repetitive chores and routines. They eat boiled potatoes with their fingers, they try to get the titular horse to do something, she fetches water from a well (so exciting that they decided to sell the movie by putting it on the poster), they sit and look out the window, they get dressed, they go to bed. And that's pretty much it. The audience is aware that the horse is probably not going to make it and that the already downtrodden father and daughter's situation will likely get worse. But that's it. They try to leave once, the come back, and the wind howls like crazy.
Eventually, you figure out what Bela Tarr has done in this, a haunting vision of the apocalypse. This is the creation story in reverse, They lose their animal and they lose their water, and by the end, a voice from above has said, "Let there not be light anymore." And with the gorgeous black and white cinematography, stunning image after stunning image that you're forced to absorb because Bela Tarr is going to put it in your face for around five minutes. I included a Bela Tarr movie in my list of movies I'd want to show in a museum, primarily because of the visuals, and he's at the top of his game here. The opening shot is a lengthy (obviously) tracking shot of the horse pulling the man and his cart through a foggy wasteland with gnarled trees in the background, accompanied by the haunting score by Mihaly Vig. That score is either as repetitive as the visuals or it's the same song played over and over again. Either way, it effectively accompanies the quietest and loneliest apocalypse you're likely to ever encounter. The first line of dialogue isn't even delivered until the 21 minute, 40 second mark, so you're left listening to the wind, watching all those leaves that might actually be giant ashes instead of leaves since there aren't even any trees around, and absorb every inconsequential motion made by these people. The lack of color almost assaults you. The gray is oppressive, and as you're sucked into the downfall of this doomed pair, you just find yourself profoundly moved and spiritually drained.
So don't get me wrong. This movie's an absolute joy to watch. It's also a major drag.
There's a neighbor who wanders in to borrow some booze. While visiting, he delivers this lengthy (obviously) monologue that references Nietzsche. He rambles about humans defacing everything, God being dead, human beings not even existing because good and evil don't exist, and about how the cities are gone. And you know what? It almost seems like comic relief after everything that preceded it. How weird is that?
There actually is some humor to all this, strangely enough. It's just the type of humor that might make you weep for several days afterward and probably lose sleep.
This movie sticks. I'm not likely to forget what I experienced here. I'm going to be shocked if I see a better movie this year.
Oh, and that horse? That fucking beast can act! I swear there's a scene where the horse cries. "Horse" is played by Ricsi, and this is his only film role. See? Here's his imdb page:
EDIT: Bela Tarr did not make it onto my museum movie list after all. In fact, he didn't even make it into the honorable mentions part. Whoops.