We only caught up with the films of Béla Tarr a short while ago, when we saw A torinói ló, The Turin Horse, his latest and last film. Tarr has been making films for 30 years. The Turin Horse starts with the captioned story of an incident in 1889, when Nietzsche saw a horse being whipped by a cab man in a street in Turin. He intervened, falling weeping on the animal’s neck. It was the start of his disintegration into madness and death. The story ends “We do not know what happened to the horse”.

This story may have no direct relevance to the film. The film opens with a long take of a horse driven along a road. But there is nothing to indicate that this is the same horse and we seem to be somewhere on a nameless central European plain rather than in Italy. The remainder of the film is set in the farmhouse where the cabman lives with his daughter. Each day is a repetition of the last. The daughter fetches water from the well, cooks a meal, which is always baked potato, helps her father, whose arm is injured, dress and undress. When the tasks are done, she stares out of the window at the wind battered plain. There are only two interruptions. A neighbour calls by and harangues the cabman about the influence of a mysterious they and a party of gypsies draw up noisily to drink from the well. They leave behind a book which the women read’s haltingly.

But this world is disintegrating. This is maybe the connection with the story about Nietzsche. Each morning the cabman tries to hitch the horse to the wagon but the horse refuses to move. It refuses to eat. The well dries up. They decide to leave, load everything into the cart, and the woman pushes because the horse won’t pull. They disappear over the horizon and then, with no explanation, return and unload. There is no escape. Finally the lamps will no longer light and even the sound of the wind drops away.

The film is shot and black and white and last’s around 2 ½ hours. It is split into a prologue and six chapters, each one a day. The events of each day are much the same as the events of the previous one but subtle variations in the way the actions are filmed mean that they are not straightforward repetitions and the variations are used for effect. For example, each morning we have followed the woman out to the well in the swirling wind to fetch water. Then, one morning, we stay at the door and watch the woman struggle to the well, which she discovers is dry, the sameness and the differences of the event captured in the filming.

This is Tarr’s last film, the summation of his career as a film-maker, and is probably not the best place to start from. I recently watched Kárhozat, Damnation, which was the first film he made in collaboration with László Krasznahorkai and the first film made in his characteristic style: black and white photography, long takes. The world that is disintegrating here is a run-down industrial town in communist Hungary. Most of the story centres on the Titanik Bar. Karrer is trying to get back with his lover who is the singer at the bar. He is offered a job smuggling a package by the bar owner. He passes the opportunity on to the singer’s husband who is in debt. While the husband is away, he succeeds in re-kindling his affair. After the husband returns, Karrer goes to the police station to betray the smuggling scheme. In the final scene, walking though the waste ground he is confronted by a barking dog. He barks back, swirling around on all fours, until the dog backs off.

The participants rarely talk to each other. Conversations are almost always monologues. One character will walk up to another, speak, often somewhat portentously, for several minutes, and then walk away. The coal buckets creak and grind across the skyline like the cable cars at a ski station. This time it is Karrer who looks out of the window. There is no escape here also and, just as the wind scourges the plain in The Turin Horse, it rains incessantly here. But there is a dance in the bar and the song the singer sings is melancholy and sweet.

The setting of The Turin Horse is stripped down compared with the setting of Damnation. I don’t know how to properly interpret it. Everything is disintegrating and there is no possibility of escape. Unlike Damnation, there is no margin here, so in that film the concreteness of the town, however decaying, is real, and we cannot imagine it ceasing to function. This is part of the bleakness; that the characters may be thwarted, but not the place. In The Turin Horse there is no such solidity and no such margin. I think it is probably better read as a kind of expressionism, the projection of a dream, rather than trying to interpret naturalistically. How otherwise to explain the brief shot of a photograph, presumably of a wife, as the bags are packed and the tools and the empty birdcage, the artefacts of a much more solid world.


Aruitemo Aruitemo, Still Walking, is a Japanese film by director Hirokazu Kore-Edo, released in 2008. It is his fourth film. The Yokoyama family is gathering to remember the elder son, Junpei, who drowned while saving another boy many years before. The younger son Ryota has recently married a widow with a young son and they are making the journey for the first time. He is without a job, a fact which he doesn’t disclose.  Also present is his sister Chinami who would like her parents to move in with her and her clumsy husband. Ryota is conscious that his parents are disappointed by him. The father, a retired physician, is bitter, feeling that the wrong son died, and remains brusque and withdrawn. Both parents think marrying a widow not the best decision though the mother says that at least a widow is better than a divorcée as she did not choose to leave her husband. The boy who was saved is invited for lunch every year. Ryota asks his mother why they invite him when he is clearly suffering. She says they invite him because he is suffering. Although it becomes clear that much is being left unsaid it is not possible to break the silences.

The film moves through the two days. Although on the train ride down Ryota has said they will not stay the night, they do. The setting is the hills above a sea-side town. Steep stairs lead up and down the hill. The scenes in the small home is carefully composed. The final scene is shot from above and at a distance. It is some years later, when the family, now two older children, and able this time to drive down in the car, return to remember the now dead parents. And the careful composition frames a story which is about the inevitability of reticences despite the damage this does.

This was I think my favourite film from the year.


Politiki Kouzina can be translated either as the Cuisine of the City, the city being Constantinople, or Political Cuisine. It is a Greek film, made in 2004 by Tassos Boulmetis, but set in Athens and Istanbul and with Turkish actors playing the Turkish roles.

The film is divided into three sections. In the first part, Fanis Iakovides, a professor of astronomy in Athens, recalls his childhood. He grew up in Istanbul, being taught by his grandfather, the owner of a store specialising in spices, and falling in love with a young Turkish neighbour Saime. However, his childhood is disrupted when the family is expelled in 1964 as part of the Turkish government’s programme to deport Greeks who were born and lived in Turkey but held Greek citizenship.  His father is offered the chance to stay if he becomes a Muslim. He later says that his regret is that, for just a moment, he did consider this. His grandfather, who does not have Greek citizenship, remains behind.

In the second part, Fanis is growing up in Athens but struggling to adapt, finding refuge is cooking, which worries his mother. In 1967 he tries to flee back to Istanbul, but is thwarted as the rail links are cut as a consequence of the military coup in Turkey.

In the third part, set in the present, he is waiting for his grandfather to visit. He has always said he will come, but he never does. And he does not arrive this time because he is hospitalised. Fanis returns to Istanbul to visit him in hospital. He meets Saime again at the funeral. She is a tour guide, married to a Turkish military doctor, but estranged. They have a young daughter. He tries to rekindle the relationship, however, when her husband returns, she departs. At the station where, 40 years before, he had been deported, she now leaves. They have been speaking in English. “Now it is my turn to leave”. He tells her not to look back, “Don’t look back Saime. On train platforms we look back and that image remains as a promise”. She doesn’t, but her young daughter, half way down the platform, does turn to look back.

This is a film about regret and the impossibility of recovering what was lost although there is advance also. The present state of relations between Greece and Turkey is improving, and if Fanis does not succeed in regaining Saime he does find work in Istanbul. The final section looks and feels different from the first two, the colours the blues and greys of wintertime in Istanbul contrast with the remembered summer colours of childhood. The film has a beautifully evocative soundtrack.


Earlier in the year we watched Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza, a film about futility perhaps, although a very beautiful futility. This is another political film, this time about the current state of the Italian republic, examined through the lens of its partying socialites.

Jep Gambardella lives in a fine rooftop apartment overlooking the Colosseum. Forty years before he wrote a well-received novel called The Human Apparatus, but has written nothing since. He attends events such as a naked women hurling herself repeatedly against a viaduct in protest against something. He writes the occasional piece for a newspaper.

He realises he is running out of time when he hears news of the death of an early love who married someone else. The husband tells him that he has read his wife’s diary and discovered that Jep remained the love of her life. This leads him into a reflection on the life he has led and the impossibility of writing another novel.

The rooftop discussion about lies and fragility against belligerent mother and fellow novelist Stefania is a memorable set-piece. He suggests her harsh  judgements, boasting and untruths hide a certain fragility and feeling of inadequacy. “We also know our untruths, and for this, unlike you, we end up talking about nonsense, about trivial matters…you are 53, with a life in tatters, like the rest of us, instead of acting superior, and treating us with contempt, you should look at us with affection. We are all on the brink of despair. All we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little.” They later make up and dance together on the lawns at the Tebaldi Gardens at a wedding.

His nocturnal amble through the streets leads him to strip club and an affair with the daughter of the owner. She dies, it is not clear why. There is a cardinal, tipped for the papacy, but unable to offer any answers to Jep’s questions, and a sainted nun. There are also some flamingos although by this time I am, as it were, losing the plot . It is not clear how the trick to make the giraffe disappear might actually have work.

This isn’t La Dolce Vita. It is too long at 140 minutes and somehow the material gets away in the second half. It seems clear from early on why Jep should be distracted from serious achievement by the hedonistic lifestyle. The moment was let pass 40 years before, though it seems that it is recovered by the end with the memory of the girl at the coast: perhaps the new novel will get written.