Best of MIFF 2011: The Turin Horse

August 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm (Writing) (, )

There are certain yoga poses that transfix you – stretching muscles and releasing tension in the exact places you need it most. They’re different for each person; mine all seem to be backbends, like bridge and bow – they’re pretty much guaranteed to make me cry (in a good way) every single time. For me, The Turin Horse was like a two and half hour dose of backbends complete with some savasana for reflection and relaxation.

The Turin Horse illuminates in bleak, repetitive, black and white detail six days in the life of a peasant father, daughter, and their horse following (so the dramatic voice over tells us) an incident in which the horse was being severely whipped until Friedrich Nietzsche threw his arms around it to protect it.

As Greg Bennett so eloquently puts it:

In a Béla Tarr film with minimal dialogue, plot, and action – you find your poetry elsewhere.

I found it in the screenplay and the strikingly beautiful cinematography – the less there was on the screen the more of myself I put into it. I pondered over the stories that were untold behind the father/daughter relationship, his lifeless right arm, the absence of the mother. I remembered the smell and feel of the horses I’ve ridden and the landscapes through which these rides took me. As the film evolved I also considered how the fate of the characters is intrinsically linked to the well-being of the horse – it may be entirely coincidental but the more the horse refuses to cooperate the worse the family’s situation becomes, to the point that The Turin Horse can almost be framed as a tale of karmic retribution.

I found poetry in the soundtrack – a swell in the wind every seven seconds (echoed in the occasional music) lulled me into a space of hyper-reality. Just as yoga makes you aware of your own physicality (your chest expanding and contracting with each breath, the push and pull of bones and muscles as you move into each pose), The Turin Horse made me incredibly aware of the audience – in a beautiful, connected kind of way, not in an irritated-because-the-guy-behind-me-keeps-talking way. Sound and movement in the audience was amplified by the silence and stillness on screen until the edges of me blurred and I lost where I ended and the windstorm on screen and the taste of salted potatoes began.

I hadn’t seen a film like The Turin Horse before, and I was quite honestly expecting to be bored by it. Instead I found it to be the wholly immersive experience of a moment, a day, a life.

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