49th New York Film Festival (Part I)

Life is rough in "The Turin Horse."

The 49th New York Film Festival opens on September 30, at Lincoln Center, and runs through October 16.  As of press time I had attended three press screenings of festival offerings.  While I think it unfair to judge an entire film festival by such a small sampling, I can only report, in my two articles posted today (Parts I and II), on what I have seen.  Two of the three films were “Two Years at Sea” and “The Turin Horse.”

“Two Years at Sea” might best be described as a meditation on loneliness.  Not a word of dialogue is spoken.  It is slow going.

A bearded hermit lives alone in the woods in a trailer parked in front of a dilapidated house.  We see the hermit go about his daily chores.  He hikes, cooks, works on a variety of projects and even takes a hot shower by way of a jerry rigged system that involves a hose.

The film is a series of interminably long takes with the camera locked down at one angle.  For example, our hero builds a make shift raft.  We watch, in real time, as he lies on the raft and drifts, incrementally, to the right side of the screen.

I mean, we get it. He is lonely. U.K. director Ben Rivers, however, insists that we immerse ourselves in the loneliness.  While the film certainly succeeds in this regard it is, even at a scant 80 minutes, a challenging “sit.”

Similarly, “The Turin Horse” is also a meditation on loneliness or, maybe more accurately, isolation, since it involves two people. While both “Two Years at Sea” and “The Turin Horse” are in black and white, “The Turin Horse” has been beautifully photographed.  Of the two films it is the more interesting.

In “The Turin Horse,” a father and daughter lead a hardscrabble existence on a desolate farm in Germany some time in the late 1800s, or early 1900s.  Their stone house is freezing and the flimsy barn doors do next to nothing to protect their horse.  We are shown the repetitiveness of the father and daughter’s routine as the camera sits on each and every detail: the daughter helps the father dress both before going to bed and again when he gets up, dinner consists of a single boiled potato for each of them, they try to get their uncooperative horse to cooperate, the daughter goes to the well to get water, the cold wind never stops howling.

While watching “The Turin Horse” I wanted to crawl into bed and bury myself under a few blankets, plus a down comforter, while continuing to watch the movie on a portable DVD player, huddled under the covers.  While I realize that this movie may not be for everyone, I grew to like it.  The film’s realistic production values, performances and the absolute, never ending awfulness and meaninglessness, of the characters’ lives, weave a web that is compelling.

At over two and a half hours “The Turin Horse” is long.  While the movie would probably play fine at a shorter length, I also think it would lose its immersive power.  I think there in lies the key difference between the two films.  “Two Years at Sea” felt too long at 86 minutes while “The Turin Horse,” at nearly twice that length, had the narrative, performances and production values to hold my attention.  Plus, at least, in “The Turin Horse” the characters speak once in a while.

For more information on the New York Film Festival visit http://www.filmlinc.com.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on September 27, 2011, in Feature Articles, New, New York Film Festival 2011 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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