Friday, June 03, 2011

The Mirror

After the worldwide acclaim of his 1972 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky was becoming one of the most intriguing filmmakers to come out of the Soviet Union. Though he didn’t get a lot of support from the country, he was being praised in Europe and various places that showed his films. For his next film, Tarkovsky was going inward for what would be his most personal film in his short but revered career entitled Zerkalo (The Mirror).

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and written by Tarkovsky with Aleksandr Misharin, Zerkalo is about a dying man recalling his childhood as well as the events that shaped his life. A loosely-based story about a man’s life that is largely based on Tarkovsky’s own life. The film uses flashbacks and original poems written by Tarkovsky’s father to dwell into a man’s life that is narrated by Innokenty Smoktunovsky. Starring Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova, and Anatoly Solonitsyn. Zerkalo is an eerie yet mesmerizing film from the late Andrei Tarkovsky.

A forensic doctor (Anatoly Solonitsyn) is walking around a farm trying to find a place where he meets a beautiful woman named Maria (Margarita Terekhova) who is waiting for her husband. After the brief conversation, Maria and her children including a boy named Alexei (Ignat Daniltsev) saw a farm being burned which would impact the young Alexei. Years later during the 1960, Alexei has a strange dream as he later calls his mother about the events that happened on that day. When his mother reveals that her old friend Lisa (Alla Demidova) has died, Alexei recalls another memory where his mother rushes to a printing press about a mistake in yesterday’s paper that she supposedly made. This would lead to a moment where Lisa claims that Maria looks like someone she knew.

Back in the 60s, Alexei’s life with his wife Natalia (Margarita Terekhova) is falling apart as their son Ignat (Ignat Daniltsev) is watching as Alexei is haunted by the fact that Natalia looks like his mother. Natalia surrounds herself with artistic Spaniards in Alexei’s apartment as Alexei is confronted with images of the Spanish Civil War and Soviet balloons. Ignat sees a strange woman (Tamara Ogorodnikova) in a room having tea as he reads her Alexander Pushkin’s letter and later gets a call from Alexei who tells him a story about the time he saw a beautiful woman (Olga Kizilov) during his period as a young soldier in training.

During this story, Alexei would have images of war in his head as it recalls the time his father (Oleg Yankovsky) returns home along with the time he and Natalia discuss who Ignat should live with as well as her plans. Alexei then recalls a dream about his childhood which leads to a meeting with a neighbor (Larisa Tarkovskaya) as Alexei sees strange images that would haunt his life right to the end.

A film about a dying man recalling memories of his own life along with dreams would be an uneasy story to tell. A conventional narrative wouldn’t work at all because it would be too long and audiences would have a hard time trying to follow along. In the hands of Andrei Tarkovsky, he creates something that is very loose and not told in a traditional narrative because dreams and memories aren’t told in sequences. While it’s an approach that doesn’t entirely work because the transitions aren’t smooth while the pacing can lag at times. Tarkovsky is creating something where he collects these memories and dreams that is told from the perspective of a man with poems that were written and recited by his own father Arseny Tarkovsky.

The film opens with Ignat turning on a TV where a doctor is helping a stuttering man (Yuri Sventisov) as he’s trying to be cured. Yet, this image would be part of a series of images that the character of Alexei would see that includes images of the Sino-Soviet border war in the late 1960s and World War II which would haunt his memory. Yet, the film never shows the adult Alexei’s face throughout as he’s narrating the entire story in two different voices. One from the poems by Tarkovsky’s father and the other by Innokenty Smoktunovsky who largely plays the adult Alexei though he never shows his face.

Tarkovsky’s direction is truly engrossing in its imagery and framing. From the gorgeous countryside look that he creates to the more decayed yet surreal world of the apartment. Shooting both in color and in a sepia-only black-and-white look through various locations and in the many segments presented in the film. It’s all about the strange moments that happen to even a simple shot of what the 12-year old Alexei is watching when his mother is visiting a neighbor. Tarkovsky always create something magical in his presentation of scenes with intimate close-ups that allows a character to soak in what that person is seeing.

Even in scenes where one of Alexei’s friends is standing on top of a hill during the snow that carries a wide depth of field. For some scenes such as Alexei’s mother walking around the printing press factory has great tracking shots to follow the chaos of what is happening. The film even features surreal moments during Ignat’s visit to Alexei’s apartment that plays up to a mixture of Alexei’s own memory of what Ignat could deal with when he becomes an adult. While the narrative approach of the film is demanding and would require patience. The result is a hypnotic yet ethereal film from Andrei Tarkovsky.

Cinematographer Georgi Rerberg does a phenomenal job with the colorful yet gorgeous photography for many of the scenes in the countryside along with shots in the apartment and in the snowy scenes for Alexei’s rifle training. For some of the countryside and other flashbacks, Reberg goes for a grainy de-colored look that is a variation on black-and-white to create something dream-like. Yet, it also has a look that is very chilling in the countryside scenes where it plays up the surrealist tone of the film to new heights. Editor Lyudmila Feiginova does an excellent job with the cutting despite the abrupt transitions while creating some great slow-motion cuts as well as jump-cuts for a scene involving a boy and a bird.

Production designer Nikolai Dvigubsky does nice work with the look of the countryside home that the young Alexei lived in along with his spacious but decayed apartment to complement the state of his life. Costume designer Nelli Fomina does a very good job with the costumes from the old, naturalist costumes of the countryside scenes to the more modern yet stylish look of the 1960s sequences. The sound by Semyon Litvinov is superb for the way it creates atmosphere from the dark dream sequences that Alexei has in the countryside scenes to the hollow world of the printing press factory that Alexei’s mother worked at.

The film’s music by Edvard Artemyev is great for its soothing yet chilling organ playing and ambient-like pieces to play up to the haunting tone of the film. The rest of the soundtrack features compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, and Henry Purcell to play up to the dramatic elements of the film.

The cast is truly superb with its array of memorable appearances from Yuri Sventisov as a stuttering man, Yuriy Nazarov as a military trainer, Olga Kizilov as a beautiful woman the young Alexei sees, Filipp Yankovsky as the five-year old Alexei, and Maria Vishnyakova as the old woman Alexei dreams about. Other notable small roles include Larisa Tarkovskaya as the neighbor Maria sells earrings to, Alla Demidova as Maria’s printing press friend Lisa, Oleg Yankovsky as Alexei’s father in a flashback, and Tamara Ogorodnikova as the old lady Ignat meets in his father’s apartment.

Tarkovsky regular Anatoly Solonitsyn is excellent as the doctor in the early part of the film who converses with Maria in a brief but enjoyable scene. Ignat Daniltsev is great in a dual role as the young Alexei and Alexei’s son Ignat. For young Alexei, Daniltsev mostly plays quiet as a boy observing everything around him. In Ignat, Daniltsev brings a more teenage quality to a young boy trying to find some escape through his parents’ divorce. Finally, there’s Margarita Terekhova in a magnificent role as Alexei’s mother Maria and Alexei’s wife Natalia. For Maria, she brings an understated yet graceful quality to a woman who cares for her children while longing for her husband’s return. As Natalia, she is a more spiteful yet outgoing woman who wants to live life to the fullest though is unsure in raising Ignat.

Zerkalo is a harrowing yet exhilarating film from Andrei Tarkovsky. While it’s not an easy film to watch due to its very loose narrative and lack of tightened sequences. It’s a film that allows the audience to be challenged by the memories and dreams of life from a man’s perspective. Anyone interested in Tarkovsky’s work will find this to be very challenging though they will get a chance to see what makes Tarkovsky such a revered filmmaker. In the end, Zerkalo is an enchanting yet abstract film from Andrei Tarkovsky.

© thevoid99 2011

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