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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Turin Horse

Potatoes for every meal and existential ennui

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 18, 2012 -- On a tiny farm, a 58-year-old farmer, Ohlsdorfer (János Derzsi) with a useless right arm (due to a stroke perhaps) and his daughter (Erika Bók) live alone, scratching out a meager existence in a desolate land in a raging windstorm. The film, shot in 30 long takes, shows us the monotony of this life over a six day period. Every day on the farm is the same routine, with few exceptions. More on those later.

There is almost no dialog in this film, except for one scene, which is essentially a five-minute speech relating to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, God is dead, the world is corrupt, the forces of good have vanished and everything of value has been taken by a nameless force. This speech is delivered by a neighbor, Bernhard (Mihály Kormos) who appears in no other scene of the film. The title of the story has to do with Nietzsche as well. The story goes that Nietzsche was so upset to see a horse being whipped in Turin, Italy, on January 3, 1889 that he had a nervous breakdown and became totally disabled for the next 10 years.

The movie opens with Ohlsdorfer riding in a wagon pulled by a horse down a primitive road in a howling windstorm. When he arrives home, Ohlsdorfer and his daughter put the cart and horse (they only own one horse and no other animals are shown in the film) in the barn methodically, without speaking, as if they had done this thousands of times. The two go through their daily routines speaking very few words. These routines are repeated several times in the film. One of the few conversations happens at night when Ohlsdorfer notices that the woodworms, which have made noises in the house every night of his life until now, have fallen silent. His daughter confirms they are silent.

Later an even more disquieting event happens when the horse refuses to pull the wagon. Angry, Ohlsdorfer whips the horse, but it will not move. This relates to Nietzsche's Turin horse which was being whipped when it refused to pull a cab. Next, the horse stops eating and drinking water. A wagon of gypsies stops at the well and take water. Angry, Ohlsdorfer drives them away, they curse him in return, but soon after that, the well goes dry. A gypsy curse?

With no water and a dying horse, the two have no choice but to abandon the farm. They pack up their meager possessions in a hand cart and go away, only to turn around and head back to the farm less than 30 seconds later. The implication is that there is nowhere for them to go. Whatever they saw must have been very scary. If so, you would have thought they would have looked at it longer than a few seconds.

After moving back into the farm house, they discover that not only is there no water, but no fire either. It seems their whole world is dying, including the horse. Sitting at the table, Ohlsdorfer tells his daughter to eat, but she just stares at the raw potato. The pace of the film is very slow, and there are scenes where the people sit and stare blankly for a long time.

The routines these two go through every day are the same. All they eat are boiled potatoes. It seemed to me this was an expression of existential ennui. Many of us go through the same routines every day, but most people aren't as limited in their daily experiences as these two people are in their very primitive farm life. Then again, maybe that doesn't make existence all that different for us.

Those who are well versed in the philosophy of Nietzsche and existentialism will no doubt get more out of this film than I did. For me, existentialism is more of a sour mood, like mental constipation, than a philosophy. I was taught in the Wittgensteinian school of philosophy, which is very different.

This film seems to imply that non-existence is preferable to existence. Some people feel that way, but I wish they would keep it to themselves and not inflict this on others through this kind of media. This depressing message sure doesn't translate into entertainment, unless it is handled a lot more artfully than it is in this film.

This movie hit a little too close to home for me. Like the people in the film, I live in a rural area where the wind can howl for days on end, like it does in this film. The wind can literally drive a person crazy, even suicidal. Many have died because of the wind. Nevertheless, this film is just plain boring. It rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)