Of what I have seen, this is the best film in all of cinema since Tarr's own Werckmeister Harmonies. The film instantly reminds me of a saying, but I forget who said it (someone important, natch). A wise person once said that when fire or animals or extreme weather are on screen, our natural, human, instinctual reaction is to be unsettled. This is our survival instinct, and Tarr plays it like a fiddle.
There is nary a frame without such elements. And if the element isn't framed up, it is mixed underneath the most masterful, meticulously-crafted sound design in all of cinema. Indeed, Tarr is playing on our basest fears when aiming for something grander and more philosophical. Or maybe he's just aiming to take down all of the useless philosophizing, as nihilists are wont to do. Nonetheless, his compositions, combining routine, elementals, and humanity, can only make the viewer fear something much more epic in scope than simple flames - Tarr sets his sights at no less than complete entropic dissolution. Nothingness.
Yet this is a story of two humans. Which makes the way that the father treats the daughter all the more heart-breaking. He sees her as yet another beast to serve him. And when she grooms him and he grunts and shakes, Tarr's use of irony is well-played. While life's necessities slip away, Tarr never lets these people have a relationship, defined by actually "relating". They prefer to stare out the window.
Even the daughter (Erika Bok, who I am pleased to see grow as a fine presence in Tarr's films), must resort to reading the ramblings of some discarded holy book. On Day 3, or was it Day 4, or it doesn't matter, Tarr and Kelemen frame the daughter as a smaller object in the background with the father distanced and separated in the foreground. I just wanted to break the silence -- or was the dirge playing? -- and shout, "FUCKING TALK TO EACH OTHER; THE WORLD IS ENDING!"
If it sounds as if I'm passionate about the film, I am. And to speak of the dirge... I would have killed to be in a room with Mihaly Vig and Bela Tarr when they were discussing what the anthem (ha!) for this film would be. Ignorant to their methods, I can only imagine Vig presenting Tarr with 40 masterworks of composition, only for Tarr to discard 39 of them. What I would give to listen to some of the musical pages in Vig's paper shredder.
Doubling back to the characters, it's tragic how they cannot talk or interact or love. Sustaining life is hard, but is that all there is? For these characters, yes. They simply can't connect. Their mannerisms define their character, from the way they interact with their fellow beast to the way they eat their potatoes. Which is why I would contest the comparison to Jeanne Dielman, a work I find more appealing as an artifact of political protest than as an actual film. I'll cop to it: I got bored watching Akerman's piece. I was riveted throughout Tarr's.
Yes, Tarr films the repetitions, but he does so as he did in Satantango, each from a new perspective, illuminating (or darkening) our observations. Each detail features insight to how these people live and (don't) relate. In Satantango, it was the literal same event from a different vantage point. In Turin Horse, the action is the same, but on a different day, from a different point of view, and it makes a world of difference. Repetitions in this film are not about wearing down a viewer in the mundanity to prove a point. Horse's repetitions are writ large on the stage of human existence. Tarr isn't so much as repeating as he is rhyming.
I could continue. Or maybe I couldn't. Either way, our lexicon needs to be improved. There needs to be a word for masterpieces that put even masterpieces to shame. That's what I'd call The Turin Horse. Tarr cements his status as the world's greatest living filmmaker, if no longer its greatest working filmmaker.