"The Mirror" (1975): Movie, DVD Review

2/05/2010 Posted by Admin

The Mirror (1975)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, written by Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Misharin, featuring poetry by Arseni Tarkovsky, 108 minutes, not rated.

By our guest blogger, Kicia Sears

There is much to be said about Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film "The Mirror," but none of the praise would be for the taught plot arc and distinctive characters. The film is loosely based on the director’s childhood and offers nearly two hours of interwoven dream sequences, memories and footage from World War I.

There is no overarching plot structure. Basically, the movie takes place in a few general time periods in Tarkovsky’s life--when Aleksei (based on the director) was a young boy living in the country with his mother Maroussia; an older Aleksei and his interactions with his wife Natalya, his son Ignat, and his mother; and finally, the war. Tarkovsky likes to use symbolism, dreams and unconventional storytelling techniques to produce different effects on the audience. It would appear that the intended effect behind "The Mirror" is to confuse. Not only because the plot is a patchwork, but also because most of the major characters are played by the same actors or otherwise look very similar.

Margarita Terekhova and Ignat Daniltsev play two characters each (Maroussia/Natalya, and Aleksei/Ignat, respectively). If that doesn’t make it confusing enough, each set of characters has the same relationship--mother-son. Terekhova does an incredible job while faced with a difficult task, setting up subtle differences between two characters that gradually build, though it’s still tough to keep track of who’s who.

Once you figure that out, there’s the problem of what happens. We find out immediately that Aleksei’s father is out of the picture. Later, an adult, Aleksei finds himself clinging to his 13-year-old son Ignat, though it would appear that the tension between Natalya and Aleksei after divorcing has left Ignat with some bitterness toward his father.

At one point, Aleksei has a dream that his mother is washing her hair when it starts raining inside the room. It’s a beautiful sequence, and Tarkovsky is known for using rain/running water juxtaposed against fire, as in another scene (a memory) in which the family barn burns down. There also are memory scenes involving Aleksei’s mother at her job as a copy editor, where her mental state is revealed as very fragile. The war hits Russia, and the audience is shown grim footage featuring children crying and the chilling failure of the CCCP-1 stratospheric balloon launch. Though the film is supposed to be somewhat of an autobiography, it lacks the intimacy of such by refusing to give the audience Aleksei’s true point of view. At the end of the day, it’s muddled and confusing despite its admirable unorthodoxy.

Unfortunately, the area in which the film suffers most for non-Russian speaking viewers are the subtitles. They are done in thin, white lettering and whenever they appear on something that is lightly colored or white, which happens about 50 percent of the time in a black and white film, it is impossible to read the dialogue or poetry. This is incredibly distracting and the film suffers from even more obscurity for English speaking audiences because of it.

However, one is able to collect a few moments of clarity that trickle out of the obtuse. It is clear that Aleksei’s father left when he was a child, and he grew up loving and resenting his mother. Later, perhaps in an attempt to make up for his fractured relationship with his mother, he married a girl who looked like her, only to find out how different the two women really are. The film seems hopeless, as if at the end Tarkovsky realized that he couldn’t make up for lost time.

Some say that before a person dies, their life flashes before their eyes--and this film very well could be what flashes before Aleksei’s (Tarkovsky’s) eyes on his deathbed. It’s a collection of memories mixed with dreams until they can’t be separated, sobering wartime experiences, and attempts to understand his mother and his ex-wife better than he had before. It is placed against a somber score of classical music, and the cinematography is beautiful. The Mirror is enjoyable to watch, and even if at the end you can’t tell mother from girl and boy from man, there is the feeling that sometimes Tarkovsky couldn’t either.

Grade: B-

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