Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Turin Horse & The Woman - MIFF 2011

 The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) just finished, and I only managed to see two films.  I always try to get to one Hungarian film on the program, and in the past I've seen some really great films. 

This year's Hungarian film was The Turin Horse (A Torinói Ló) by Béla Tarr, starring Erika Bók and János Derzsi.  In 1889 in the Italian city of Turin, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed a hansom cab driver whipping his horse, which was refusing to move.  Nietzsche was so overcome that he threw his arms around the horse's neck, sobbing. This incident was rumored to have caused his subsequent mental breakdown.

The Turin Horse follows six days in the life of the aformentioned cab driver, his daughter, and the famous horse.  They live a life of abject poverty in a one-room peasant house, following a monotonous routine of household chores and meals of a boiled potato each.  A couple of times attempts are made to hitch the horse up to the cab, but the horse is obviously ill, and refusing to eat, and the pair never leave the environs of their house.

The entire 146 minute film is shot in 30 long takes, and in black-and-white, and contains almost no dialogue.  It was simply the most excruciating film I have ever seen, incredibly monotonous, and with a dirge-like score.  But somehow, about an hour into the film, I found myself caught up in the story.  What a pity a whole selection of crazy house lights at the Forum Theatre came on in the last half hour of the film, including a bright orange spotlight right on the screen, totally ruining the mood!  Apparently it was caused by a faulty dimmer switch.

My friend and I contacted the MIFF box office to complain, and they offered us free tickets to any other session, which was nice of them.  Lots of things had sold out by then, so in a bit of a panic, I got tickets for us to The Woman, an American horror film by director Lucky McKee.  Neither of us is at all into horror, so we thought we might be in for a bit of an excruciating time.

Well, we were pleasantly surprised! The plot follows a seemingly upstanding small-town lawyer in rural Maine, who comes across a feral woman living in the nearby woods.  He captures her, locks her in the basement, and with the help of his bewildered family, sets about civilising her.

Pollyanna McIntosh is incredible as the title character, completely bestial and quite terrifying, but in the face of her captor's increasing aggressive and perverse behaviour, and his wife and daughter's passive inability to stop him, we come to sympathise with this most un-human-like character.  Rather that straight horror, The Woman is a rather clever black comedy and social satire, while exploring issues such as domestic violence, and the notion of "civilisation".  Although it does have some pretty gory scenes, there's nothing too gratuitous, and it's got a great soundtrack too. The Woman is screening soon at the Nova as part of Cult Cravings, so if you can stomach a bit of gore, check it out.


  1. I know I shouldn't laugh but your story of the dimmer switch made me LOL! The Woman sounds intriguing. I love a GOOD horror with a strong story. My bro-in-law saw 43 films at MIFF this year. Yes, you read that right! Eek! jx

  2. Well, it was actually quite funny for the first 5 minutes! 43 films is craaaazy, kudos!