Béla Tarr has made many more interesting films, but none as strategically perfect. Unfortunately, A Tourinò Lò has a few tactical flaws and had to go up against Melancholia last year, another apocalyptic film with a mostly off-screen horse near its center, but one that manages to produce utterly contemporary affect. Despite its many virtues, ahistorical or trans-historical affect limits A Tourinò Lò. Then again, essentialist depression seems to me a reasonable reaction when you wake up one gray mo(u)rning to realize you’ve been making industrial cinema for 40 years.
I can’t agree with my virtual friend Kailejsh Benengeli’s brilliantly articulated and politically useful analysis of A Tourinò Lò shows us “Nietzsche from his victim’s point of view.” I’m not so sure Nietzsche precisely had victims, and the film doesn’t articulate a criticism of Nietzsche at all, though one can see the temptation to understand it that way. A Tourinò Lò reads Nietzsche so as to erase any trace of triumphalism in his writing. Tarr and screenwriter László Krasznahorkai ignore Zarathustra, vertiginous falls, Provençal songs, and the eternal recurrence as the repetition of the new in favor of the eternal return as the deadening weight of the world.
My other virtual friend came closer to the mark when he pointed out that the version of the story about Nietzsche and the horse told in voice over at the opening of A Tourinò Lò reminded him of the one in the novel Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí, (The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.) Tarr says that he wanted to make a film about “the heaviness of human existence,” which seems as if it were a direct critique of Kundera. A Tourinò Lò’s insistent repetition plays like a critique of the passage in Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí, which claims that “human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.”
Eternal recurrence structures the time of everyday life in Tarr’s film. Over the course of six days compressed into 2 ½ hours of screen time, the film repeats the same gestures that verge on turrets: tending to the horse, the daughter dressing her father who has a lame arm, drawing water from the well that doesn’t have a pulley, the family meal of hot potatoes eaten with bare hands. Each action seems on the very of collapsing into spasm each time the characters perform them, as if direction had been inspired by this Giorgio Agamben’s “Notes On Gesture.”
Throwing a fully nihilistic Nietzsche on screen and calling the movie one’s last movie ranks with the most beautiful of exit strategies. Tarr exhausted every filmable theorem about the breakdown of the social over the past three decades and make a last filmwhich, free of a socious to implode, makes life itself unbearable and interminable. A Tourinò Lò’s horror lies in the fact that, like the past things can’t ever quite be said to be over: Nietzsche lives on for 10 silent years after the episode in Turin, the characters continue their routine even after their world has gone completely dark. Given that Ágnes Hranitzky, who is married to Tarr and has edited many of his films co-directed, it’s not hard to see the life of the father and daughter in the film as a sketchy allegory of life in even the best thought out industrial cinema with its endless meetings and repetitive production process, not to mention the obligatory interviews after a film release.
The tactics that slightly mar the film express an excess of virtuosity and as usual with Tarr a too pronounced taste for the aesthetics. Tarr couldn’t resist providing some gratifications by way of showing he can realize certain effects better than his predecessors. The scenes involving the horse produce an affect between dream and nightmare with precision rare in movies through the camera movements that manage to evoke the oneiric impression one has of one’s body. In these scenes, Tarr and DP Fred Keleman create one last set of crane and steady cam shots.
Creating anything violates the film’s aspiration to complete nihilism.
Admittedly, the question of whether or not to move the camera presents difficult problems for A Tourinò Lò, since while shooting the whole film in lock down would have muted muted the film, it would have also felt like a citation of Chantal Ackermann’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and thus valorized the cinematic project in general.
The film already comes to close to paying homage to Ackermann’s movie as well as Sohrab Shahid Saless’s Tabiat-e Bijan through it’s emphasis on the movements of empty domestic labor and peasant life.
In general, A Tourinò Lò uses homage as a tactic in order to say farewell to a cartain tradition that has been important for Tar. Through out his mature period Tarr developed through references to Tarkovsky (the framings of his long takes and slow camera movements)
Bergman (in Wrekmeister Harmonies)
and Pasolini (the way he shoots walking characters.) In his final film he gives in to citations from The Seventh Seal (characters moving across the crest of a hill in long shot on block and white stock)
and Antonioni (The whiting out of the screen with hanging laundry or blowing snow and dust.)
Tarr even refers to the same Pieter Bruegel painting that happens to appear in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, Hunters In The Snow.
The one successful reference comes with the film’s insistent de-aestheticization of Vincent Van Gough’s Potato Eaters.
Mostly, these referential and reverential tactics make me sympathize with my third friend, John David Rhodes who complained that he felt as if he were watching A Tourinò Lò watch itself. Nonetheless, the film achieves something quite grand in the history of nihilism (I’m aware that philosophy graduate students will have a field day attacking such a formulation, but I couldn’t care less.) I hope to stay informed of Tarr’s coming extra-cinematic erring.