Tarkovsky’s purest cinematic poem pulls you into its complex if nebulous form, in a work that continues to astonish time and time again.
Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
1975 | Soviet Union | Drama | 107 mins | 1.37:1 | Russian & Spanish
PG13 (passed clean) for some nudity
Cast: Margarita Terekhova, Filipp Yankovskiy, Ignat Daniltsev
Plot: A dying man in his forties remembers his past. His childhood, his mother, the war, personal moments and things that tell of the recent history of all the Russian nation.
Subject Matter: Abstract/Poetic
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at The Projector)
A few days after seeing The Mirror, I still can’t decide what to make of it, and like the mysterious black hole, the film’s complex if nebulous form continues to protect its mystery, as if any more contemplation or deeper analysis would spoil the myth.
Maybe that’s why for decades after its inauspicious release (a bomb at the box-office with an ultra-limited theatrical run in the Soviet Union, not to mention it was also suppressed from competing at Cannes by the studio), it has grown in stature in spite of its impenetrability.
Some critics have regarded The Mirror to be Andrei Tarkovsky’s finest achievement in a short-lived career of astonishing films. While that is arguable, it is certainly the work of an artist, in this case a filmmaker operating as an abstract and existential painter-poet rather than a traditional storyteller.
“I can’t wait to see this dream in which I’ll be a child again and feel happy again because everything will still be ahead, everything will be possible…”
Despite it being one of Tarkovsky’s shortest films, The Mirror could also be one of his densest with its mix of naturalistically-shot sequences and historical footages of war, presented via a series of flashbacks, and occasionally accompanied by narration of original poetry and classical music (particularly from J.S. Bach) that balance between the intimate and the epic respectively.
It is quite the assault on the senses, but while there is a lot to take in, Tarkovsky manages to find enough time for certain scenes to build and morph into some kind of metaphysical beauty. Two notable ones stand out for me: One of them, a tracking shot that ends with a burning barn, is so famous in conversations about Tarkovsky’s work that one might have heard about or seen it without actually seeing the film.
The other, as sublime a scene as the great director has even done, sees a young boy conversing with an old lady in an apartment in what appears to be a daydream (or memory conflating with dreams) that concludes with a patch of moisture on the window evaporating into nothingness.
Tarkovsky made 32 versions before he approved the final 33rd cut.
Although The Mirror might seem out of place in the director’s filmography in terms of its form and structure, not to mention also being sandwiched by two lengthy sci-fi epics—Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979)—with legendary reputations, it is becoming increasingly clear that it might just be Tarkovsky’s purest cinematic poem—that counterforce that pulls his other films closer together, like the Sun and its revolving planets.
The fact that The Mirror was the fourth out of seven features that Tarkovsky eventually made also suggests an uncanny mathematical balance.