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Andrei Tarkovsky, the acclaimed master of Soviet cinema, takes a moving and personal turn with this striking meditation on life in Russia during the bleak days of WWII. The Mirror is not just the display of a film director at the peak of his unique powers. As an homage to the innocence of childhood, it tells an enigmatic tale that is both gripping and horrifying. Tarkovsky uses his own coming-of-age experiences, himself "mirrored," to convey the mood and action that dominated a country ravaged by war. Through a fascinating two-tiered time frame, the director blends his own harsh childhood with an adult life that is troubled and broken. Powerful images - a mother faced with political terror, a divorcing couple's quarrel - are underscored by Tarkovsky's masterful manipulation of film stocks and recorded sound. The Mirror becomes a stream of consciousness: nostalgic visions of childhood mixed with slow-motion dream sequences and stark WWII newsreels. Tarkovsky's The Mirror is ultimately as much a window through a filmmaker's gaze as it is a reflection of his personal passions and ideals. Through this essential film, viewers may find the puzzles that provide the key to director's other works, including, The Sacrifice and Solaris.
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Andrei Tarkovsky is often referred to as a visual poet, and Mirror is a film that doesn't just exemplify this style, but sees it realized to its fullest potential. Tarkovsky's images and compositions are the words of this poem, and the manner in which these images are stitched together through the organic movements of his camera is its cadence.
The narrative content of the film essentially involves a narrator reflecting over his childhood, adolescence, and adult life, particularly focusing on his complex relationships with his mother, wife, and son. Instead of telling a linear story, Tarkovsky seamlessly blends the present with the past and dreams with reality. The film continuously and unpredictably pirouettes along the narrator's timeline, highlighting key moments and slowly revealing his current state of mind and outlook on life.
It would be impossible to overstate the visual prowess of this film. Tarkovsky is a true master of visual art, and there is an abundance of searing, unforgettable images in this film that will instantly burn themselves into your brain. The shot composition, lighting, and use of color is immaculate and the way the camera flows freely within the spaces on screen creates an ethereal, other-worldly quality. Given that the vast majority of the film is populated by memories of the narrator, this style works extremely well. The camera seems to act as the mind's eye of the narrator as he journeys through his recollections. At times it hovers over his mother, wife or son, at others it slowly turns away and lingers on the environment as the characters speak off-screen. We as the audience feel like we are directly inside his mind, exploring these memories with him.
And despite the lack of strict narrative structure, plenty of messages and themes bubble to the surface as the film progresses. Having only seen the film once at the time of writing this review, I'm definitely at a disadvantage as this is the kind of movie that needs to be seen many times to fully absorb its story and themes. From what I was able to gather on the first journey through, a big theme of the film is the cyclical nature of life and the ways in which past experiences and traumas impact the present.
In an interesting and decidedly brilliant casting decision, Tarkovsky uses the same actors to play multiple key parts in the film. The same young boy plays both the narrator as a child in his distant memories, and his son in his more recent adult memories. He also uses the same actress to play his mother in his childhood memories, and his wife in his adult memories. This choice emphasizes the similarities between these characters despite their separation in time. There's a great narrated monologue about midway through the film in which the narrator (and Tarkovsky) muse over the "immortality" of life: "Everything's immortal... One table serves both granddad and grandchild... The future is being made right now." These words conjure an image of a continuous thread of life that permeates beyond the individual and through the generations.
And further, as I mentioned previously, Tarkovsky seems to suggest these generations are also cyclical in nature, with individuals that mirror and reflect one another as the title of the film implies. As a boy, our narrator struggles in the absence of his father who is fighting in WW II. He lives with his mother, grandmother, and sister in a remote wooden cottage after fleeing Moscow which had been bombed. Our narrator's mother is not much comfort to him and seems detached, even unhinged as much of the imagery suggests. A telling scene shows the division between mother and son, as the narrator attempts to unsuccessfully open a door and walks away, only to have the door swing open for us to reveal his mother behind it.
In the later memories, these themes recur. The settings have changed, but the characters (and again, the actors themselves) have remained the same. The narrator's son is also isolated and estranged from his distant and troubled mother. The narrator himself seems to fill the role of absent father like his father before, trying to push the boy to live with his mother or suggesting that they enroll him in a military academy. It's interesting as well that the narrator chose to marry a woman so similar to his own mother, as if he is still trying to become close to her even in adulthood.
The implication seems to be that the experiences (positive and negative) of the narrator in his childhood have impacted and shaped his adult life, as they do with us all. The film, then, is essentially the narrator's visualized realization of this as he journeys through his memories. Mirror is a deeply philosophical and visually stunning work that challenges and rewards the engaged viewer. If you love movies, don't miss this one.
Before watching the movie, it is important to know the format of the movie. The movie is not telling a story in a chronological order. The movie is a character study, studying the narrator through his relationship with his mother and his wife. It fluctuates back and forth between past and present quite often, and this transition is made especially confusing by the same actress portraying both his wife and his mother.
So do not watch this movie expecting to see a story. This movie is not a story. This movie is a picture. This movie paints a picture of the narrator, as well as of his wife and his mother through a series of memories. Do not try to get a story line from this movie. Just seek an understanding of the qualities (especially the flaws) of the characters. Think of the movie as being an analog for how we access our memories when creating a picture of a person in our mind. When we think of our mother, we do not follow a chronological path in the order in which memories come to the forefront of our mind. So neither does Tarkovsky follow a chronological path in which the events in this movie are arranged.
When you stop trying to find a story, and just seek an understanding of the characters, that is when the remarkable beauty of this picture unfolds.
While Tarkovsky's movie Andrei Rublev is my favorite movie by him (and possibly my favorite movie by anyone), I think that the tranquil farmhouse scenes in this movie are my favorite scenes from any movie, especially the scene where the family barn burns down.
The audio defaults to a 2.1 (stereo plus subwoofer) track, but can be toggled to the original mono track. There are a myriad of subtitle languages, and from what I can tell (at least with the English subtitles) the RUSCICO edition translation was very thorough (and not missing large chunks of the dialogue, as with another release of this movie) albeit a little hard to follow in the poetry sections because of how fast the lines of text have to change out to keep up with the poetry.
This release is a Region 9 (all region compatible) NTSC DVD, making it universally acceptable for anyone with a NTSC-compatible DVD player.
Notable difference from the product image: the cover of the copy I received says "Mirror" with the Russian directly beneath it, not "The Mirror" by itself. Otherwise, the DVD cover is the same as shown. See photo.