I love films…a lot…I like watching and analyzing them. There are many things I keep in mind while rating a film – Acting, Direction, Screenplay, Production, and Sound being some of the most obvious ones.
But Cinematography has always had a special place in my heart. I love it when a director’s vision is brought to life by the Cinematographer. I remember watching Children of Men a few years back and getting bored within the first 15 minutes. I also remember watching it again after a few years and being blown away by the cinematography. I think that was the first time I started watching films more seriously. I started learning more about them, especially Cinematography. I love it the most.
Talking about Cinematography, I love long takes. They utilize the full abilities of everyone involved. They are a challenge for everyone. I love how actors and the crew manage to pull it off despite the difficulties. That is what makes it fun.
There are many directors who have incorporated long takes in their films but there is one who took them to the next level. He is none other than Bela Tarr – The Hungarian art-house film director. He loves his long takes just like Wes Anderson loves his colorful symmetrical frames. I have watched all of his films except Satantango which is around 7 hours and 30 minutes long. He has filmed some really exceptional moments like the walking scene in Werckmeister Harmonies. That scene can be used to test the patience of any individual. But the take I love the most is the opening scene of The Turin Horse. That scene is poetry on Celluloid.
The Turin Horse is a philosophical drama about a father and daughter trying to survive in harsh conditions.
What’s Special About The Opening Scene of The Turin Horse
The opening shot of Bela Tarr’s masterpiece – The Turin Horse is a single take that keeps going on and on for about 4 minutes. This shot is a summary of the whole film and that is what makes it great, in my opinion.
We see an old man driving his horse-cart back home. We see the poor horse pulling the cart with all its might. They both seem to struggle against the harsh winds. As they move forward, we see the skeletal tree-trunks and bushes in the background. Everything is grey, dull, and lifeless. There are no clouds in the sky. The camera keeps moving left-right-forward-backward, showing you things from all possible perspectives. Then, there’s the haunting music playing in the background which takes it to the next level. This combination of artistic mastery evokes some really intense emotions which I have never felt watching the other long takes by other directors.
It just hits you for some reason and establishes the tone of the film. We feel pity for the poor man and his horse. There is no violence in this scene but it’s almost unbearable to see them go through this for 4 minutes without any break. Tarr could have introduced the characters in less than 10 seconds because the characters don’t really do anything. They just walk, that’s all. But since the whole film is about this man trying to survive, Tarr makes use of visual storytelling. the long take makes sure we understand that the conditions are really really harsh. We want the man and his horse to reach home safely even though we don’t know anything about him. He may be a bad person but we don’t care. In short – Tarr knows his shit.
There are many scenes in the film that can be used to teach cinematography in film schools. I took some screenshots while watching the film. I love the high contrast in the scenes as it results in some really exceptional shots. It is not overdone like in Aronofsky’s Pi but the results are spectacular. Just take a look at this shot for example. There is nothing in this scene except a female carrying a wooden bucket. Of course, there’s ground and the sky. But even this not so special scene looks visually stunning. This is the reason you need good Cinematographers. They bring the director’s vision to life.
Then there’s this still of the daughter looking out of the window. It is one of my favorites in the entire film. Again, the whites and blacks make it look stunning albeit the setting is minimal. I don’t think anyone else could have done better. Tarr has this ability to make ordinary things look extraordinary. I know the Cinematographer is the guy responsible but it is Tarr’s vision.
The whole film is a philosophical drama without much happening on screen but Tarr made it all look so beautiful and meaningful that I never bothered to check the time. It’s films like these that keep out hopes alive in cinema. There are hidden gems in every country. We just need to dig deeper.
If you want to watch the full opening scene, I have embedded the YouTube video below. It is over 4 minutes long.