Tarkovsky’s penultimate feature (stunningly shot in rural Italy during a self-imposed exile) might be his most ponderous work, yet it could also be his sharpest take on faith.
Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
1983 | Italy/Soviet Union | Drama | 126 mins | 1.66:1 | Russian & Italian
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for brief nudity
Cast: Oleg Yankovskiy, Erland Josephson, Domiziana Giordano
Plot: A Russian poet and his interpreter travel to Italy to research the life of an 18th-century composer, and instead meet a ruminative madman who tells the poet how the world may be saved.
Awards: Won Best Director, FIPRESCI Prize & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Cannes)
Source: Kino Lorber
Subject Matter: Moderate – Faith & Humanity
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Elliptical
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Finally, I’m glad to say that I’m Andrei Tarkovsky complete. Nostalghia, his penultimate feature made between Stalker (1979) and The Sacrifice (1986), might be his most ponderous work, yet it could also be his sharpest take on faith.
In his inimitable slow cinema style, the film follows Andrei, a Russian poet who visits a town in Italy with a translator in tow, hoping to learn more about the life of an 18th-century Russian composer who took his life after being exiled there.
The parallels with Tarkovsky’s self-imposed exile after being disillusioned with making films in his motherland are as clear as day.
But Nostalghia isn’t just about the personal and the political (even if an eccentric old man whom Andrei first meets at a mineral pool is an embodiment of both), it is also about homesickness and the longing for warmth and connection amid an acute sense of displacement.
“Feelings unspoken are unforgettable.”
In this case, Tarkovsky plays with fleeting dream sequences that conjure up lost memories of home, shot poetically in black-and-white. The scenes in colour are even more stunning, particularly the aforementioned fog-enshrouded mineral pool which makes more than one appearance.
Its later appearance would be the setting for one of Tarkovsky’s most exceptional long takes, where faith becomes central to its becoming, and therefore, imbued with a transcendental quality.
Some critics have regarded Tarkovsky’s final two works shot in exile as lesser than his Soviet output, but while there is a case made perhaps for Nostalghia being his most artistically derivative film, I feel it is always tantalising to see an artist work in a different cultural context or milieu.
In that regard, Nostalghia could be due a reappraisal as Tarkovsky’s most personal work—a poignant, introspective study of an artist dealing with implosive thoughts, ideological uncertainties and debilitating memories.
Yet somehow, all the psychological violence is rendered with grace and wistfulness, as if to say: be the peace that you want to bring.