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The Mirror (1975) – Impenetrable, sure, but beautiful

I’m trying to get back into seeing the free films at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Gallery has a large, beautiful theater where they screen films related to current exhibitions. Now they are screening a series called Cosmic Futures: Visionary Russian Cinema  in relation to the show Masters of Modern Art from The Hermitage.

This is how my 4th film of 2019 came to be The Mirror a film made by Andrei Tarkovsky in the Soviet Union in 1975.

Mirror Zerkalo Tarkovsky trailer from Budapest Film Zrt. on Vimeo.

If you prefer films which tell a narrative story, this is not a film for you. A guy sitting near me called in “impenetrable” and that isn’t too far from the mark.

It is, at times, a very beautiful, if non-narrative, film of dreams and memories which take place over three different timescapes with the same actors playing different roles in each timescape. Sometimes in colour, sometimes black and white, sometimes sepia. With an all but unseen narrator. And a voiceover of poetry being read. And newsreel footage of the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the Chinese Revolution.

A 2012 Sight & Sound poll of directors it came in as the 9th best film ever. So, directors love it. Maybe you will too.

Frankly, with the final season of The Americans on my mind, I kept wondering what Elizabeth and Philip Jennings would make of it.

Here is the synopsis from Wikipedia:

The film opens with Alexei’s adolescent son Ignat (also played by Ignat Daniltsev) switching on a television and watching the examination of a stammerer by a physician. After the opening titles roll, a scene is set in the countryside during prewar times in which Alexei’s mother Maria (Margarita Terekhova) — also called Masha and Marusya — talks with a doctor (Anatoli Solonitsyn) who chances to be passing by. The exterior and interior of Alexei’s grandfather’s country house are seen. The young Alexei, his mother and sister watch as the family barn burns down. In a dream sequence Maria is washing her hair. Now in the postwar time-frame, Alexei is heard talking with his mother Maria on the phone while rooms of an apartment are seen. Switching back to the prewar time-frame, Maria is seen rushing frantically to her work-place as a proof-reader at a printing press. She is worrying about a mistake she may have overlooked, but is comforted by her colleague Liza (Alla Demidova), who then abruptly reduces her to tears with withering criticism. Back in postwar time, Alexei quarrels with his wife, Natalia (also played by Margarita Terekhova), who has divorced him and is living with their son Ignat. This is followed by news-reel scenes from the Spanish Civil War and of a balloon ascent in the U.S.S.R. In the next scene, set in Alexei’s apartment, Ignat meets with a strange woman (Tamara Ogorodnikova) sitting at a table. At her request, Ignat reads a passage from a letter by Pushkin and receives a telephone call from his father Alexei. The strange woman vanishes mysteriously. Switching to war-time, the adolescent Alexei is seen undergoing rifle training with a dour instructor, intercut with news-reel footage of World War II and the Sino-Soviet border conflict. The reunion of Alexei and his sister with their father (Oleg Yankovsky) at war’s end is shown. The film then returns to the quarrel between Alexei and his wife Natalia in the postwar sequence. Switching again to prewar time, vistas of the country house and surrounding countryside are followed by a dreamlike sequence showing a levitating Maria. The film then moves to the postwar time, showing Alexei apparently on his death-bed with a mysterious malady. The final scene plays in the prewar time-frame, showing a pregnant mother, Maria, intercut with scenes showing Maria young and old. (Old Maria is played by Tarkovsky’s own mother, Maria Vishnyakova.)

Seen at Art Gallery of New South Wales on 16 January 2019

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