Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NYFF 2011: Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse

If one were to come up to a person, and describe a film they have just seen as being typically Bela Tarr-like, such a description would mean very different things to very different people. First of all, one must have knowledge of who the hell Bela Tarr even is in the first place, which I suppose narrows down our focus group pretty damn drastically. But for those few who do know the Hungarian filmmaker, and more importantly, know his films, to describe something as being typically Bela Tarr-like could either mean the film in question is a brilliantly methodical, sparsely actioned, black and white, fascinating work of cinematic art, or it is a pretentiously methodical, sparsely actioned, black and white, tiresome work of cinematic arrogance. Six of one, half a dozen of another I suppose. 


Now the film in question here is more than just Bela Tarr-like, it is actually the Magyar maestro himself. With the director's latest (and if one were to believe the man's own hype, his final film), a work called The Turin Horse (actually co-directed by long time collaborator, film editor Agnes Hranitzky), one can easily see the filmmaker is back in the brilliantly subversive mad genius mode that gave the world Damnation in 1988, Satantango in 1994 and Werckmeister Harmonies in 2000, before faltering a step or two with the good, but certainly not great Man From London in 2007. A mode that has influenced many a modernist filmmaker (or should I say remodernist filmmaker, after the movement indirectly started by the works of Tarr) and made Gus Van Sant go from Good Will Hunting to Gerry and Last Days. If this is the director's final film, it is a shame really, because he has just managed to prove that indeed, he does still got it.

But then, as more than alluded to up front, Mr. Tarr is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. In fact he probably isn't even everyone's cup of anything. The auteur is know for having an oeuvre of long (some could say excruciatingly long in a few cases - especially in one case in particular), very methodical, oft-times meandering along at the breakneck pace of an especially melancholy sloth, works that derive the same type of socio-religious pleasure as Dreyer, Bresson and Tarkovsky all rolled into one great big beautiful three-headed, six-armed, six-eyed apocalyptically-minded cinematic beast from the very bowels of Hades. Hyperbole aside, the basic gist of all that was to state the obvious fact (for those that know the man and his films) that to see a Bela Tarr film is to see either a great great thing or a bad bad thing - but a thing nonetheless.


With a running time of 146 minutes (which, with the exception of the 450 minute long Satantango, is a pretty standard Tarrian running time) there was seat shuffling a-plenty, as well as much sighing and some rather strangely placed chuckles (and yes, there is some humour, but no so much as to elicit the laughter interspersed throughout the almost full cinema) at the noon press screening at Walter Reade. And of course, there were a few walkouts, which is usually kept at a minimum at a press screening, no matter how excruciating one finds the film or films in question. When the film ended (finally ended some may say) there was no applause - just silence, followed by a quick mass exodus once the credits ended and the lights came up. Hell, even Mr. Divisive himself, Lars von Trier received a round of applause after his Melancholia screened here last week.

There were, I am sure, varying degrees of enjoyability for those other members of the intrepid press corps that filled the Walter Reade on Monday - though I would go out on that ole proverbial limb and say the consensus was not an overall thumbs up (please do not sue me for that last comment oh great and powerful Mr. Ebert). I did happen to overhear one critical compatriot say, "I wasn't bored", almost as if one would expect him to be. Bully for him I say, bully for him. I happen to be (as I am sure you have already surmised from that " brilliantly subversive mad genius mode" comment a few paragraphs back) on the side that was not only mesmerized by the film, which incidentally is based on the harsh life of the horse that was the supposed breaking point for Nietzsche’s impending madness (I kid you not), but maybe even, as the kids are saying these days, blown away

When the film will see the inside of a US cinema is still up in the air. With American theatrical rights now owned by Cinema Guild, my best bet would be sometime in the first quarter of 2012. Whatever the case may be, a full review of the film will be forthcoming on or around that eventual release date. 

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