Over the last thirty years, writer and director Béla Tarr has remained one of truly great masters of cinema. And as much as it is a shame that he will retire from filmmaking, his swan song, The Turin Horse, is an uncompromising and wondrous work that may be his greatest achievement (read my review here). Tarr prefers not to discuss his films, but he made his first appearance in the United States in 17 years for the premiere of the film at the New York Film Festival. Read the Q&A below:
Encountering the piece of writing by longtime collaborator László Krasznahorkai
In 1985 was when I heard first time this text. [Laszlo] had been lecturing in Budapest. We know what has happened to Nietzsche but we don’t know what happened to the horse. That is the question that moved me. And since 1985, we tried to find the right answer for this question. And time to time, we had discussions. And then when we finished The Man From London, we said, “Okay. Let’s make it my last. Because we have to answer this question.” So we started work with Laszlo, and this is our answer.
Collaboration with DP Fred Kelemen and the use of movement
He was my student in Berlin in 1990. I was working with some other cinematographers, but I’m a very autocratic old guy. I know the whole movie from the first screen to the end, and I knew his sensibility. I can tell him camera movements, I can tell him compositions, I can tell him a lot of things but when the camera is rolling, he is watching the scene. You read his sensibility; when you go a little bit closer or a little bit further, it’s totally different. We know each other well…we are not talking during the shoot, just doing. There’s no reason to talk. He knows what I like. Sometimes they can say something, sometimes they don’t. That simple.
In response to a banal question about “human behavior and nature.”
If I was able to say some words, I wouldn’t have made this movie. This movie cost a lot of money. If I can tell you really by words, I wouldn’t have told my friends to be there at 4 o’clock in the morning in cold weather to show what we feel and how we feel. That’s the reason why I really don’t like to speak about the movies. The movie is picture, sound, written, humanized, and a lot of emotions, and the presence of the personalities. I could say something about our responsibility to nature but what we put on the table is a little bit more; it’s what you can see.
Directing Actors. How much information do you give your actors?
Nothing! (laughs) What can I say her? You have to go to the well! The well is there! (laughs). It’s cold. Move! When we do the casting, I forget immediately what we wrote down and forget immediately what is the character of the film. I’m always watching who is the person. What is the personality of this human being? Who will be with us? Because he or she will be naked. You will see her eyes. You will see her reactions. It’s totally enough for the movie. I don’t need to say anything about the characters. If they start to play something, I shut them down. Just be! Don’t play. Because what you want to see is some real emotions, some real reactions. That’s what you want to see in her eyes: pain, severance, happiness, hope. A lot of things you can see in these people’s eyes.
Collaboration with composer Mihaly Vig
It’s very good, no? He was [working] before the shooting, and he gave me the music and we stayed together. And we decided what and where we want to use it. But before the shooting. The music, like the landscape, like the set, like the actors, has a face too--one of the main characters. And I like to know the main character before the shooting. I have to know the main character. And the music for me is very important. To work with him is very simple, because like Laszlo, like Agnes [Hranitzky, the co-director and editor], we have the same point of view. When we are talking about the work, we have the same belief and the same reaction. That’s the reason to not tell him so many things about the music. I did it in the beginning, but I have seen immediately how I am stupid. He is the composer; he has the same sensibility and he knows what we want.
If you are talking about the storytelling, I’m really not your man. If you are talking about a feeling, which is so rich. There’s a lot of things I feel. The long take is a simple thing. If you have real personalities, and if you can do it in a human situation, and if you are doing the long take, you will have a special tension and a special presence of the people. Front of the camera and behind the camera, everybody is on the top…and have to be in the situation. And that’s how we get some real special true moments. On the other hand, these long takes are really tricky things because we have cutting, cutting in the camera not on the editing table. Because when we start the take of someone’s face and then move to look at the landscape, and something happens over there, and then we cutting back to the other point, and then we have a fifth position or a sixth position. This is something which is always changing, and you have a lot of things, which is not following the story. You can add a lot of things. You can add to time, you can add to nature, you can add a lot of things. If you are just doing the movie, it’d be like “action, cut, action, cut, information, cut” and you have no chance to listen or see some important details. And when you see the whole movie, you have to recognize the details are more important than the stupid story.
Choosing the horse
The same way we are casting actors! We needed a horse, who never wants to work. And we found it at the animal market. It was a very miserable thing, because she was in a lot of danger and [the owners] wanted to kill her because she never wants to work. She couldn’t tell us how she was treated or if she was beaten, or what is happened with her, or why she doesn’t want to work. But she was very sick and very close to death. That’s why we I decided we have to do this movie because we have to protect this animal. I can tell you the horse is well. Now she is in a beautiful place, next to a forest, and there are some other animals there. And now she is pregnant!
Creating the weather
Very simple. Take some old wind machines. And then you need people who can move in stupid wind machines, and they have to move together.
On this being his final film. Why?
[Pointing at the screen] What else can I say? When I started I was 22. I spent 34 in front of a camera making film. And I did it. Step by step I wanted to go closer and closer to create a very pure, very minimal movie. I just wanted to do something that is essential. I am telling you, life is very simple, full of daily routine. But every day is different. You do the same, but every day is different. Your life, and mine too, is getting weaker and weaker, day by day, by the end, just disappear. No apocalypse…nothing. Just disappear. That’s what I wanted to tell you. I have the feeling the work is done. Ready. No reason to repeat anything. That’s all. Enough, for me.