The Turin Horse (15) 146 mins ***
With zippy superheroes having hijacked Hollywood’s imagination, world cinema is fighting back with films that depict frailty, suffering, slow decline: you know, what the rest of us see when we look in the mirror each morning. Those awaiting Amour, Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-garlanded study of old age, will get a bracing kick from The Turin Horse, the doomy Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s final film before retirement. Inspired by the anecdote that drove philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche potty (or pottier), here are six days in the hardscrabble life of an aging, one-armed farmer and his caring, compassionate daughter, eking out an existence on a storm-blasted plain where food is limited to one boiled potato a night. The sole form of entertainment: sitting at a window watching the leaves rustle by.
It sounds like a French & Saunders arthouse parody, but Tarr is unmatched at drawing the viewer into these grimly forbidding environments. Long, detailed takes – count ‘em: just thirty-odd shots in 146 minutes – allow us to register what happens when the couple’s routines begin to go awry, sorely stretching their reserves; the farmer’s stoic horse and the mocking, musical gusts rattling the stable doors become supporting players in some timeless, quite possibly apocalyptic struggle. Whipping up more wind than the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, Tarr transforms the sparsest of elements into a pretty remarkable experience. Probably best to take a scarf, though: to wrap yourself up in, if not to hang yourself.