Turns out Lars von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA wasn’t the only apocalypse fable playing the Film Fests of 2011. Bela Tarr, that ‘long-take’ Hungarian master, toured the circuit with one last film, wrapping things up not with a Trier Bang, but with a haunting whimper. Unlike Trier, a film natural who plays Provocateur Without A Cause, Tarr can’t take his hard won talent lightly. Yet he can misdirect us. This film, with its equine title and opening quote about ‘the horse of Turin,’ a beaten beast whose fate supposedly broke the spirit of the philosopher Nietzsche, points at Robert Bresson’s famous, if little seen, AU HAZARD BALTHAZAR/’66, a film about an over-worked donkey. Particularly so in Tarr’s opening shot, a tour-de-force seven-minute take where a hard-working horse is driven home thru gale force winds. As things turn out, it’s not so much the horse as the world that’s on its last legs. An aging farmer and his uncomplaining daughter, their land and properties in serious decline, guide us thru a dismaying daily routine as the world closes down and the winds pick up. Wind so strong, even an attempt to leave is quickly foiled. They can’t go on; they go on. It’s a rural landscape out of Samuel Beckett, though without the grim fatalistic humor of ENDGAME or GODOT. And yet, you become so caught up in the relentless, droning pace and tiny shifts of perception that depression, acceptance and potatoes become things of wonder. An amazing work; amazing to look at, too.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Tarr’s technically baffling long takes (a mere 30 shots over two-and-a-half hours) may be the key to his early retirement. With world cinema moving from film exposure to digital registration, Tarr would no longer be limited by the standard ten minute roll of film stock. Quit now, or lose your mind with the limitless capacity of digital downloading.
DOUBLE-BILL: For a narrative-driven melodrama about living with never-ending gale storms, try Victor Sjöström’s THE WIND/’28, a magnificent late silent vehicle for Lillian Gish.