“In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Albert. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.”
Following this opening epigraph, Béla Tarr, in the first shot of his final film, begins to explore the beleaguered animal’s fate. The camera is traveling, as it is so often in Tarr’s films, but instead of its typical creeping, meditative approach toward some revelation, here it moves at a breakneck pace, capturing the beast from a low angle as it gallops, the tops of trees passing behind it in the corner of the frame providing the only snatches of environmental context. The horse weaves to the left and to the right, its neck muscles straining, veins bulging, spittle gathering at its lips, and the camera tracks its motions, pivoting back and forth, ensuring the massive animal fills the frame. From the low angle, it looks as though it might run us over; for the shot’s duration you can imagine the terror of those apocryphal early French viewers of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. As it careens back and forth across the road, we catch glimpses of its cruel master (János Derzsi) exhorting the horse onwards. He sits oddly in the saddle, handles the reins with difficulty; we’ll learn later that this is the result of an enfeebled arm. It seems Nietzsche’s pleas have fallen on deaf ears as the driver pushes his animal to the breaking point in his race to somewhere. What’s his hurry? Read Jeff Reichert’s review of The Turin Horse.