A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)

What are the limits of narrative cinema? If, indeed, The Mirror is narrative -- that question needs to be developed in more ways than I care to go into here. It's easy to say that Andrei Tarkovsky's film is non-linear, jumping back and forth in time with no clues about when and where we are in any given moment. Even the switches from black-and-white to color turn out to be red herrings if you're trying to sort out chronology. There is a fine line between frustration and stimulation, and Tarkovsky dances along it as we the viewers similarly traverse the line between ennui and involvement. It is, I gather from reading several essays that reinforce my impressions of the film, a memory piece in which Alexei, a man on his deathbed, recalls his childhood in Russia before, during, and after World War II. His memories include his mother, Maria, and his wife, Natalia, both played beautifully by Margarita Terekhova. Similarly, Ignat Daniltsev plays both the young Alexei and his son, Ignat. There are lucid episodes throughout the film, mixed with newsreel footage from the wartime and postwar periods, along with bits of fantasy and surrealism. I would like to say that The Mirror is hypnotic, because it begins with a scene in which a therapist uses hypnotism to try to cure a young man of a speech impediment, but that oversimplifies the effect of the film. I love and admire the previous Tarkovsky films I have seen -- Ivan's Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), and Solaris (1972) -- but I will have to see it again to decide if I want to join the consensus on its greatness: It took 19th place in the 2012 Sight and Sound critics poll of the greatest films of all time, and an astonishing 9th place in the directors' poll. I concede that it is "poetic," including the fact that Arseniy Tarkovsky, the director's father, reads his own poems in the film, and there are scenes of extraordinary beauty, the work of cinematographer Georgi Rerberg. But is that all we should ask of a film?