On reflection…

August 18, 2007

Well over the last week I didn’t get to listen to much music, a combination of employment assessment centres and spending some quality time with my better half kept me busy. This morning however I had some quiet time to myself, but instead of putting something into the CD player I sat and watched Andrej Tarkovsky’s Mirror, a DVD I have owned for a couple of months now, but for some reason just haven’t had the inclination to sit and watch.
I’ve written here before about the difficulty I have with sitting and watching films in this way. I’ve spent many years avoiding the act of sitting in front of a TV for long periods of time, but the recent few attempts I’ve made to sit and watch a few films I’ve been recommended have been enjoyable.

Mirror is beautifully constructed. To me, after just the one viewing it seems to be a collage of childhood memories and emotions intricately wound together to paint an overall picture that allows an understanding of how Tarkovsky felt as a child (the film is in a large part autobiographical) rather than tell a story with any beginning or end. Characters aren’t fully defined for a long time and remain slightly distant, their secrets held back rather than explained, leaving you with their surface emotions and the occasional hint at something deeper. The film is put together wonderfully. Each short scene is beautifully filmed in itself, with recurring metaphorical motifs and faces appearing at different stages, with movements back and forth in time blurred by the reappearance of familiar moments. The film acts as a mirror on itself, the past reflecting the future, and vice versa, until the temporal structure of the film dissolves and we are left with just a sense of emotion, nostalgia, regret and lost vitality that as a viewer we can all understand. The screen showing the film becomes a mirror in itself. There’s no way I can come close to understanding this film after just one viewing, and it may be some time before I see it again, but it left me in a state of melancholic contemplation as it ended, projecting onto me some sort of blanket of overall feeling and mood.

Beside this sense of reflective atmosphere the film is technically and visually very beautiful indeed. The movement between one scene and the next is often stunning, ranging from slow panoramic swings of the camera to precise cuts between places and times, often with some visual elements remaining from scene to scene. Tarkovsky uses several repeated devices nicely, rain falling at a window appears often, and one dreamlike sequence where the ceiling of a house falls around the lead female character echoes the rainfall. Mirrors and reflected images obviously occur often, and a small bird, captured in the hand at one point in the film is later released, and in late sequences in the film birds flying free may or may not hark back to the same device. The photography is gorgeous, a wonderful sense of compositional framing is evident throughout and the timing matches the slow, dreamy pace of the film superbly.

I’m miles away from really appreciating Mirror. So far I can only take it at surface value, take from it its beauty and sense of introspection. Clearly there are many layers in there, metaphors I don’t understand, subtleties that are lost on me, partly becuase I need to watch the film more, and partly because I lack experience with cinema of this quality, but I know I enjoyed Mirror a lot and will return to it again.

Comments (8)

  • zhao

    August 18, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    tarky fanatics swear on this as the ultimate. but it is a bit beyond me at this point in life… have seen it several times, on DVD, at the cinema… it is a great puzzle, for sure… and haunting in a way that i can’t put a finger on… but for now i FEEL much more the more (relatively) straightforward meditaions and poetics of Stalker, and the more poignant and powerful statements of The Sacrifice or Nostalghia.

    but surely Mirror will be something to return to with the passing of seasons…

    thanks for sharing your thoughts. and the Treatise recommendations. looking forward to the version you will release.


  • _duif

    August 20, 2007 at 6:38 am

    second that Stalker and Nostalghia recommendation (The Sacrifice, not so much), and will add Ivan’s Childhood and Andrei Rublev. it must be great to be able to approach watching a movie like you do, Richard, as something out of the ordinary. I can’t help but feel that the impact of watching even a major masterpiece is diminished a bit by watching about 1 film per day, like I do.

  • Richard Pinnell

    August 20, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Yeah I probably can’t see myself sitting and watching a film more than maybe once every couple of weeks david, but who knows, I know one or two people that said that and then disappeared under a mountain of DVDs soon after..!

    I think my next Tarkovsky’s will be Stalker and Andrei Rublev following recommendations from friends here and elsewhere. Those two sound most likely to be the ones I would enjoy most.

  • zhao

    August 21, 2007 at 2:19 am

    well the sacrifice is a singular event innit. different from the others which usually involve jumbled up plots, many layers of information and tangled metaphors… and as such, i really do love it:

    sometimes something just needs to be said directly, simply, with weight and force.

  • zhao

    August 21, 2007 at 2:21 am

    but then again there is *the chicken scene* (in Sacrifice) which almost chucks my analysis out the window 😀

  • Robert

    August 22, 2007 at 11:47 am

    If you haven’t watched Stalker yet Richard, definitely watch that one next. It certainly will appeal to what you like, with it’s long shots over detritus in water and it’s stunning electro-acoustic soundtrack.

    As a die hard Tarkovsky fan I greatly respect Mirror but it one of the ones I return to least often. I think one has to be Russian to really grasp this. Its a great glimpse for the rest of us, but it will alway remain so.

  • JBW

    November 6, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Richard: Thanks for your review of Mirror. I recently screened it for my sister and a friend who had a very similar response to you on first viewing.

    Andrei Rublev and Mirror are my two favorite Tarkovsky films. Stalker closely follows. I’ve returned to Mirror over and over and the more I see it the more it reveals. I’m not so fond of the last two films – Nostalghia and Sacrifice – I think Tarkovsky became a little too preachy and wordy. I preferred the earlier films which tended to rely more on visual storytelling.

    Solaris is the odd one out of the earlier films. It has some very good moments but is spoilt by the awful choice of male lead. To say his acting is wooden is to be kind.

    Ivan’s Childhood is ok but is clearly the work of someone yet to find their feet.

    There are two versions of Rublev. The Artificial Eye/Ruscico is the “official” cut and considerably shorter. The full Criterion cut is perhaps the one to see if you can. Both are masterpieces and as good cinema as you are likely to see.


  • Richard Pinnell

    November 8, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    I’ve had Stalker here for about six weeks now JMG, and so far its made it out of the cellophane wrapper but nowhere near the iMac I play DVDs on… maybe soon when I’ve run out of new music to play… erm….

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