In 1889 Friedrich Nietzsche left his house in Turin and witnessed a man violently whipping his horse, which would not move. This image caused a mental breakdown in the philosopher, who threw himself at the neck of the creature to protect it, and afterwards fell ill until his death in 1900. What happened to the horse remains unknown, the narrator informs us at the beginning of what is allegedly Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s last film.
Shot in black and white and using only 30 takes, the film shows six days in the life of the peasant who beat the horse. The peasant lives with his daughter in an isolated farm house. As he returns from Turin, a strong wind brews and will not cease until the very end, offering an often hypnotic background sound. We follow the two in their daily mundane activities, but as strict and well rehearsed their routine is, their life seems to untangle minute by minute. The illusion of control doesn’t soothe their unspoken desperation, as the world itself seems to have conspired to tear them apart. As the wind grows stronger, the horse refuses to budge or to eat, and their well dries out. Whether this is a punishment for the beating of the horse, humanity’s last savage act the Universe would suffer, or merely a prolonged storm or maybe even a grim vision in Nietzsche’s delusional mind is for the viewer to decide.
Those familiar with Tarr’s work will know what they are in for, but newcomers might find the long, slow meditative takes, the agonising repetitiveness and the lack of a classical story-line unwatchable; as have the roughly dozen people who have walked out from today’s screening. But for those who can adapt to the rhythm, this will be a mesmerising experience with intense, silent acting and a firm yet agile directorial hand, which reminds one strongly of Tarkovsky or Bergman; the film itself seeming to belong rather to the period of ANDREI RUBLEV and THE SEVENTH SEAL than 2011.