Talking about Slow Cinema: TURIN HORSE (Tarr, 2012)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Ira Jaffe’s Slow Movies (2014): ‘Introduction’ and Ch. 7 ‘Rebellion’s Limits’.

In a symposium in 2007 devoted to Béla Tarr’s cinema, David Bordwell stated that “we want a cinema that puts the brakes on, slows things down. What we have to start doing if we want to study film history and aesthetics of film history is to look at how different filmmakers are taking this path.” It is undeniable that in a world where technology is advancing faster than ever, the attention span of audiences is becoming shorter and shorter – films reflecting this trend. The cuts have become faster, action moving at a rapid pace, all to keep us on our feet constantly. It is thus important to examine dromology itself – the science of speed – where there social acceleration mirrors the capitalist economy’s assembly line, aiming to create rush of sensations, kinetic drive and an accessible aesthetic to the mainstream.

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But both Jaffe and Béla Tarr insist on the need to decelerate the speed of cinema, suggesting that it facilitates the investigation of major artistic and philosophical concerns. Tarr’s film Turin Horse aims to represent the ‘real’, drenching its aesthetic in a dreary black and white to reflect the utter bleakness of the events (or lack of) in the film. Not only visually, but also through minimal storytelling is this achieved – the ‘narrative’ of the film follows a father, daughter and a dying horse in an anti-genesis subversion of events towards an inevitable death. The height of the camera is constantly at eye-level, broodingly silent and inarticulate. It is here that the duration of the film is felt, whereby the use of 30 shots in the 150 minute running time echoes the continuity in real life – ensuring that the film is a real psychological process.

And yet, Tarr’s choice to challenge his audiences is no accident – he destroys his film world in the period of six long days – elongating the shots, with few cuts, almost-to-nothing action – to convey the depths of despair that come with the futility of escape. Here, Tarr emphasises the collapse of everything living, shown metaphorically through the dying tree on the hill, and the horse that “refuses to eat”. The total deterioration of living beings is depicted through the father and daughter’s unchanged routines and the slowness of their actions. The repeated event of the consumption of the steaming-hot potatoes is an occurrence which happens multiple times during the duration of the film – at times, shot from different perspectives, while still remaining stationary. It is here that Jaffe draws upon Tarr’s lack of an “affect-less manner” – where the two lone characters in the film lack expressive range and mobility. Assisted by a completed stripped back mise-en-scene, any type of elaborate or dynamic lighting and colour removes the possibility of personalising their characters – gravitating towards a stillness, a death.

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There is something akin of Tarr’s film to Beckett’s absurdist plays (see Waiting for Godot and Endgame), where the dread and inevitability of death is waiting to occur. There is a certain unbearableness to the experience of the film which is self-reflexively imposed on its audience through the film’s long duration – leaving time to contemplate and wrangle about the emptiness of life itself. It is also similar to Beckett that Tarr’s departure from the conventional artform is depicted, where his subversion of traditional structure and filmic techniques seeks to represent the real rhythms of life.

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