by Allan Fish
(USSR 1974 106m) DVD1/2
p E.Waisberg d Andrei Tarkovsky w Andrei Tarkovsky, Alexsandr Misharin ph Georgy Rerberg ed L.Feiginova m Eduard Artemyev art Nikolai Dvigubsky
Margarita Terekhova (Alexei’s mother, Natalia), Philip Yankovsky (Alexei, aged 9), Ignat Daniltsev (Ignat/Alexei, aged 12), Oleg Yankovsky (Father), Alla Demidova (Lisa), Anatoli Solinitsin (doctor), Larissa Tarkovskaya (Nadezha), Innokenti Smoktunovsky (narrator), Arseny Tarkovsky (narrator poetry),
Tarkovsky’s most personal meditation, Mirror is undoubtedly one of the greatest cinematic poems put on celluloid, as well as one of the most beautiful. It’s a film that undoubtedly will infuriate as many as it will captivate, but I guarantee that anyone who watches it once in a state of rapture will continue to do so in later life. Like the dreams and remembrances of its protagonist, its memories haunt you for years to come.
A perfect example of this is in the first shot in which we see Terekhova. She is sitting, back to the camera, atop a wooden fence looking out over a meadow at dusk. In the distance we see a man approaching. Then the camera cuts into Terekhova’s face as she smokes a cigarette. Ever since I first saw that shot it has troubled me, haunting me every time I see it. As if recalling a memory locked deep in the subconscious that I cannot summon to the conscious. And the conscious and the subconscious play a large factor here, as there is undoubtedly a dreamlike quality to Mirror. It’s a film that does not lend itself to a plot synopsis, but does lend itself to unprecedented interpretation. Just as Terekhova on that fence to me represents that which is lost in time, she could signify something totally different to someone else. It’s this dreamlike quality, intensified by Rerberg’s gorgeous photography (cutting back and forth from the golden bathed colour into which Terekhova’s hair seems to meld to sepia tinted monochrome) in the infamous magic hour that gives the film its soul. But a soul in itself needs an expression and Tarkovsky is that mouthpiece. Mingling together contrasting images of his own childhood and archival footage of the wars and revolutions of the 20th century, he manages to capture the very essence of his nation’s soul in its most turbulent century.
That is not, of course, to dismiss the autobiographical layers to the film, represented by not only the childhood remembrances but in the poster for his Andrei Rublev on the wall (and that film’s star Solonitsin as the stranger on the meadow) and, most fascinatingly, the open book on the table with the self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in old age. Tarkovsky seems to be paralleling his own attempts at trying to make sense of his life through his art with those attempts of earlier artists in different fields, a feeling which is more than backed up by the readings of his father Arseny’s poetry and the imperious narration of Innokenti Smoktunovsky.
Most of all, however, it’s a film that shows Tarkovsky’s influences and the eponymous mirror analogy is plain for all to see, with nods to Lewis Carroll and Jean Cocteau amongst the poetic imagery (and a faintly Proustian slant to the narrative) and mirrors themselves seeming to represent the soul of the camera, holding up its own looking glass to life. Through this roving camera, he captures some of the most breathtaking images on film, but also some of the most hypnotic (literally in the case of the opening scene). His main focus of course is Terekhova who, though by no means a conventional beauty, remains his camera’s object of devotion. Tarkovsky knew more than any other director that the most beautiful thing to film is the human face and also the most ambiguous. When pregnant and asked by her lover whether she wants a boy or a girl you can see her thinking it over, but Tarkovsky rightly lets you make your own mind up. So it is that Mirror is a film best watched alone, to allow your own dreams to freely mingle with its imagery. “There’s neither death nor darkness in this world”, we are told, and though that may be false, Tarkovsky, like the rest of us, wishes it was true.