Being Boring

The Onion’s AV Club calls the opening shot of The Turin Horse the shot of the year:

The most highly-voted comment on Youtube, from mikaelhs, says, “This is the most boring and yet probably the best flm I’ve ever seen.”

Can we really say what we’ve seen is boring? I say no.

Maybe the narrative mikaelhs is drawing from is the one that tells us films like this are boring because they don’t have the  action, sex, scenery, costumes or witty dialogue of a film like Iron Man 2. In this fairly basic narrative, boring films are better for the same reason boring food is better. A boring film is healthy, and it is your obligation as an intellectual to watch a boring film. I might say that I think The Turin Horse is far less boring than Iron Man 2 if I want to deliberately play contrarian to that narrative, and it’s true, the shot of the horse I just saw was to me much less boring than Iron Man 2. But it’s not that it is non-boring in a different way than Iron Man 2 is non-boring; to say it is is to reveal the pretense of contrarianism I mentioned before. The two films use the same techniques in excitement and drama.

I think the reason mikaelhs finds The Turin Horse boring is its positive qualities, not its negative ones. Some visual cues are on hand to tell us that the film should be thought of as boring. Despite being released in 2011, it looks like a European film from the 1950s. (This has to be intentional; even the “reel” itself shows blotches and imperfections.) Black and white, opening with recited Hungarian on a black screen, its color palette and flawed sound remind us instantly of Alain Resnais or Ingmar Bergman, our favorite “boring” filmmakers. The film is, nearly as much as The Artist was a replication of silent film, a replication of European art house. Art house’s main qualities are that it is boring, and that it is good. Boring and good: mikaelhs’s review.

But like The Artist, The Turin Horse betrays itself: in practice, rather than theory, it is not boring. By any basic cinematic standards, this is fascinating. The music is pulsing and suspenseful. The face and body movement of the horse is harrowing, and the stillness of its rider terrifying, and already my mind is creating the characters. I didn’t want the shot to end, and I’m someone with something like attention deficit disorder for watching video in the background while I work. A second camera capturing this scene in color and high-definition could have included the shot in Steven Spielberg’s non-boring horse drama War Horse, and it would have been one of the most riveting scenes in the movie.

The Turin Horse is an exciting film that appears boring on the surface because it stylistically reminds us of films we qualify as boring.

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