Friday, December 28, 2012

Nietzsche's Horse

"In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Alberto. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.”

The block of text above fills the screen and is read aloud by an unidentified voice as prelude to Béla Tarr’s most recent film, completed in 2011 and released in English as The Turin Horse. It all began back in the mid-1980s, when Tarr heard novelist and longtime creative collaborator László Krasznahorkai retell the story of Nietzsche's breakdown, concluding with the question of what happened to the horse. A few years later Tarr and Krasznahorkai wrote a synopsis, proposing to follow the horse's fate. Twenty years later the mysterious wheels of the movie industry aligned themselves at last, and the film got made.  

But the story itself was never true. Nietzsche at age 44 did have a permanent mental breakdown in Turin on 3 January 1889 while living in the building shown in the background of the picture at top. But the entire horse routine, though enshrined in Nietzsche tradition, is always referred to by scholars as "apocryphal" or "fictional". So Tarr's film is a made-up follow-up to a made-up anecdote.

I found out more about the star of the film (the horse) in an interview with cinematographer Fred Keleman.

Interviewer: On some practical points, how large was the crew and how did you come upon the film’s unusual location?

Kelemen: We had a pretty small crew. In my department I had four technicians, two people in my camera team and the grip. The final choice came down to two different locations. We felt that the location with the hills and the lone tree was the perfect place, with more than enough room to build the horse stable and the house—it’s in Hungary.

Interviewer: And the horse?

Kelemen: The horse Ricsi is female. The name was given to her before Béla found her. I was not present, so it is his story to tell. Ricsi is living on a farm now. We are pretty sure that she was poorly treated in her life before the film. She had this deep sadness in her eyes and she didn’t like to move with a carriage.

Interviewer: Just like Nietzsche’s horse.

Kelemen: Yes.

Interviewer: Ricsi even had an effect on the casting, right?

Kelemen: Béla had to find an actor, playing the father, who could work well with the horse.

At age 55, Tarr declares that The Turin Horse will be his last film because, with it, he has taken his own art to its conclusion and cannot take it any farther. His earlier Werckmeister Harmonies appeared here.