Customer Reviews: The Mirror
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on October 27, 2002
Having watched this movie since I was in my early teens, I have bought the DVD published by KINO ON VIDEO, and oh my, Andrei Tarkovsky must be rolling in his grave knowing what they did to his masterpiece.
For those of you who don't speak Russian, I feel very very very bad for you, because of the terrible translation of the movie. Aside from the poems in the movie, that were previously translated by the professionals, the translation sounds as though it was done by fifth-graders. And not just because it is done in the high-school level English. HALF of the speech is not translated at all--a lot of important chatter is completely missing in the subtitles. Many things are oversimplified and revealed, instead of letting the viewer dig them out him/herself. Those of you who don't understand Russian are doomed to be tortured by such translation and never to reveal the true beauty and meaning of the original script. Having read all of the subtitles, I understood a lot of things in a wrong way, different from the way they were intended in the first place, and had zero satisfaction from the movie. Thank [deity] I'm Russian.
The ugly yellow subtitles can NOT be removed--they will stay on the screen forever while I watch the movie and irritate and upset me with the abovementioned crimes against Art.
The supposedly "black and white" scenes, which originally had a silver-ish quality to them, and some were in sepia, are now in plain B&W a la Fellini's La Strada. I used to have a feeling that the bushes were made out of steel and silver, but not on this DVD.
DVD has ZERO extras, and thank [deity] they divided the movie into chapters for easy scene access, but even there they managed to screw up. Upon skipping to a chapter, the scenes do not start from the beginning, and you actually skip halfway into the characters' speech.
For Tarkovsky movies, I would NORMALLY recommend R.U.S.C.I.C.O. editions, but not in the case of Mirror. Yes, as any R.U.S.C.I.C.O. movie, it has very good subtitles, in a dozen languages. But, the problems with the picture and sound are even worse in their edition, albeit better picture quality as opposed to the grainy KINO quality. R.U.S.C.I.C.O. tried extremely hard to make the movie more enjoyable, and, apparently, overdid it. The lighting does not match with the original movie, as they try to make every object more distinctly seen and illuminated. They increase sharpness in places where it shouldn't take place, such as "hand-on-fire" image, thus depriving the illusion that the hand is on fire. Remastered sound often fails too, as many sounds are louder than others and overlap each other out of order.
But I digress. We have no other choice but to choose between either KINO or R.U.S.C.I.C.O. edition of Mirror. I suggest buying both :) so that you could experience the near-proper picture quality of KINO and the proper translation of R.U.S.C.I.C.O.
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on March 12, 2000
Andrei Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR (1974) is his most personal and artistically daring film--and to me, ultimately his most moving.
A semi-autobiographical work, it interweaves poems, dramatic scenes, dreams and newsreels to evoke the inner symbolic world of the protagonist, his nostalgia for the past and his troubled relationships with his wife and mother in the present. At the same time it is a meditation on the nature of Russia, from the nation's role as mediator between the East and West to specific historical events such as the Stalinist purges of the mid-to-late 1930s and World War II. Indeed, few works of art say more about the Russian people with such economy.
The cinematography, by Georgii Rerberg, is so richly detailed that it frequently takes your breath away. Many of the shots are deliberately reminiscent of paintings by Breughel and Leonardo da Vinci. The soundtrack is equally beautiful, layered with natural sounds, electronic music, classical music (by composers such as Bach and Pergolesi) and poems (written and recited by the director's father Arsenii Tarkovsky, a noted Russian poet).
The film undoubtedly benefits from its superb cast, which includes many popular and highly respected Russian actors. The voice of the Narrator is played by Innokenty Smoktunovsky; Margarita Terekhova plays both the Mother and the Wife. Other actors make indelible impressions in smaller roles: Anatoly Solonitsyn (the Doctor), Oleg Yankovsky (the Father), Alla Demidova and Nikolai Grinko (the mother's colleagues at the printing factory). For those who speak Russian, it's a pleasure just to hear their finely tuned dialogue.
Although the film was widely criticized for being too difficult to follow, it was also praised by many Russian critics for capturing the spirit of an entire generation. It may not be to the taste of everyone, since it is constructed more like a poem than a conventional film narrative. However, for those who are willing to make the leap of faith, it is uniquely rewarding.
Kino on Video's new DVD looks absolutely stunning. Having seen the film a number of times in various less-than-ideal incarnations on video, I was impressed at the way the DVD captures the richness of the film's cinemtography. The film is above all a sensuous experience, so every extra bit of detail in the image and sound helps add to its overall emotional impact. Kino has used the same transfer for their new VHS edition, but the DVD is clearly preferable and it's the same price. It doesn't have any special features, unlike Kino's new release of Tarkovky's THE SACRIFICE, which includes a making-of documentary. However, it's hard to complain when the film itself and the video transfer are so satisfying. In summation, I can hardly recommend this particular title more highly.
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on January 19, 2003
Be sure to read Vlad's review of the shoddy quality of this DVD. As a non-Russian speaker, I am essentially spared the awful knowledge of just what has been done to this film.
At first viewing, unless you are an incredibly perspicacious viewer, this movie will be utterly baffling, partly because Tarkovsky has gone to such lengths to blur past and present. The same actress plays the protagonist's ex-wife in the present and mother in the past and the same actor plays the protagonist's son in the present and himself in the past. Sometimes the present is in color, the past in black & white; having established this expectation, Tarkovsky then reverses it on you later. Yet other times, dreams are in color and reality is in that tantalizing shade of sepia-color-black & white that Tarkovsky has used elsewhere (especially in "Stalker").
In fact, I was so baffled when I first saw the film that I simply gave up trying to follow the narrative and basked in the intense beauty of the film work. The dream sequence of the mother washing her hair, for instance, is utterly mesmerizing. The long shot that carries us from a table out to witness a burning building is breathtaking in all of the various reflections and reversals of angles it uses along the way. The final shot of an old women and two children walking into a field as the camera pulls slowly into deeper and deeper woods until finally the people are completely concealed by the trees often chokes me up, and I couldn't tell you why. Even the opening scene, simply a conversation on a fence by a field, is an exquisitely choreographed ballet of cinematography.
This most personal of Tarkovsky's intensely personal body of work is essentially biographical, but no self-respecting member of the Russian intelligentsia, at least not one of Tarkovsky's disposition, could ever justify such a self-indulgence as mere biography. Consequently, we never see the protagonist, save for his hand when he is ill and overhearing his voice. This erasure of his adult self, and the inclusion of newsreel footage of key historical moments during the protagonist's life, aim at creating a generalized biography for all of Russia. An especially striking moment shows news footage of Russian soldiers slogging muddily through a bog. As soon as one has the full impression that this is human life in a thoroughly degraded condition, a voiceover of one of Tarkovsky's father's poems talks of immortality, sublime beauty, the very loftiest of human sentiments on spirituality. The contrast is deliberate, but not ironic, and illustrates a triumph of the human spirit in even the most unlikely of places and times. Elsewhere, Tarkovsky makes a religion of elevating the mundane. In his book on his work, he admits that one of his techniques (he denies there is anything symbolic in his work) is to focus on an object for so long that the viewer inevitably begins to wonder at, and thereby increase the significance of it.
Perhaps if the subtitles were better, I'd better understand the film. As it is, the sheer intensity of the films gorgeousness never ceases to amaze me. The dream sequences alone are simply amazing. There have been other movies that might here or there exceed the Mirror in beauty for a moment or two ("Picnic at Hanging Rock" comes to mind), but I've never found one that can even come close to matching its consistency throughout. This is without question, the most visually moving film I have ever seen.
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on June 12, 2000
The ultimate Tarkovsky film in many ways, but the one that may prove most challenging and difficult without the proper background information. I highly recommend the Johnson & Petrie book, "The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue," it is very enlightening and makes clear the fact that "Mirror" is not a confusing film but indeed Tarkovsky's tightest and most sincere work. Incidentally, the actual title doesn't contain "The", it's just "Mirror." Truly one of cinema's greatest masterpieces, a landmark in subjectivity and the dreamworld/natural world duality. The greatest attribute of this film rests in its unflinching gaze on the depths of human experience, a fluid odyssey into the heart-straining visions of a brilliant man's soul. Considered by many Russian cinephiles as Tarkovsky's greatest film and the personal favorite of many of their finest directors. Of course, the picture quality of the DVD is much better than the VHS, but it isn't anything to get excited about. I haven't come across any fantastic Tarkovsky DVD treatments other than the Criterion "Andrei Rublev". The mother/wife and young narrator/son are played respectively by the same actors and the subtitles don't include the names, so take care not to confuse the characters.
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on March 10, 2000
Andrei Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR is a historical achievement in art and form. This is what great movies should be like: very personal without being overly sympathetic and corny. It was very hard for me to understand. It is about a person who is reviewing events that have occurred in his life before he dies, but the movie presents his experiences in a non-linear fashion. Probably the best way to approach this movie is to put yourself in the individual's shoes. We all think of past experiences, but not always chronologically. Even if one may find this film hard to understand, there are many beautiful moments in this film: the opening scene, the dream sequence, the print shop, the stock footage of the balloon ascent, the bird landing on the boy's head, the firing range, the fire, etc... This movie's unpopularity in the United States is living proof that many true works of cinematic art in this country largely go unnoticed. If I can direct at least one person to the works of Andrei Tarkovsky then I feel my work as a film buff is done.
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on May 21, 2005
Let me get this straight first: This movie is awsome, I'd give it the most perfect score any day (though it defies being judged).

The "Mirror" by Tarkovsky is a perfect mood piece. A reflection on childhood without equal in cinema. A literal mirror which reflects and builds upon what every viewer, every individual brings with him/her to this movie. Any further comments are pointless, although I should warn that this is not a movie based on plot/ characters but on the viewer's experiance and emotions. It is also slow based and meditative: it's not a film which which feeds information to the viewer, but from which the viewer extrapolates information. Be prepared to think, or most importantly have an open heart and mind to enjoy this film.

Here's the bad: The Ruscico transfer, which is way better than the Kino release, is flawed on the NTSC (US/ Canada) versions of the film. It had been cheaply and directly ported fom a PAL (European) master of the film. Pal is 25 frames per second and NTSC is 30 frames per second. To make up for the lost 5 frames per second, a compilation od two frames blurred together was used. Hence, when the picture is moving in a panning shot, the objects on screen go out of focus...and that's unacceptable in a film like Mirror. If you want the best DVD of this movie, get the PAL version directly from Ruscico, or the "Artificial Eye" UK release (from Amazon UK). And make sure to note that you want the optional original mono soundtrack, since not all discs have that. You'll need a multi-system DVD player to play the dics though.

Anyways, Shame shame Ruscico for being cheap on the NTSC treatment.
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on June 16, 2006
I just finished watching it. It's been several years since I saw it last time. I worried that I may not like it as much as I used to...

I should not have worried - I love it even more now if that is at all possible. I've seen it at different times of my life - first, as a college student many years ago in Moscow; I keep returning to it all my life.

When Tarkovsky's Zerkalo (The Mirror) was first released, it divided the audience completely. I remember how my friends were passionately discussing it. One girl was complaining that she did not understand anything; the movie was confusing for her, dark, disturbing, the children characters - sad, pale, poorly dressed. I remember her asking, "Why did they show a boy in the opening scene that had an awful stutter, and they never showed that boy again? What did it mean when the dying man in bed was setting a bird free? How did he get the bird on the first place?" Another friend of mine, a guy, tried to explain the things to her. He suggested that she thought about the times Zerkalo was showing, he tried to explain to her Tarkovsky's symbolism where the bird could be representing life and soul of the main character and the boy with the stutter could mean that it was most difficult for people to communicate and understand each other.

I only listened to their argument and did not participate because I had not seen the film yet. When it finally happened, Andrei Arsenievich Tarkovsky was presented at the screening and he talked to the audience before the show. I remember him repeating over and over that there were no tricks, no puzzles, and no tongue-in-cheeks in the film; that every symbol, image, dialog, and sound was there because they belonged there. He asked us if we had questions. Someone from the audience suggested that we saw the film first, and then, asked questions. Tarkovsky replied that from his experience, not many viewers would sit through the film and who ever would, usually leave in silence, not asking anything. And then he told us a story. After Zerkalo was completed, it was first shown to the group of the famous critics. After watching it, critics started to argue about it, trying to find the hidden meaning and make sense of what they just saw. It went on and on until the cleaning lady who came to the screening room and had been waiting for the end of discussion to do her job, asked them for how long they would stay? Someone said to her that they were discussing a very complicated film, and they needed time to understand it. Cleaning lady asked, "What is that you do not understand in this film? I saw it also, and I understood everything." Critics were silenced for a moment, and then, one of them asked the woman to share her thoughts on Zerkalo. She answered, "It is about a man who had caused too much pain to the ones whom he loved and who loved him. Now he is dying and he is trying to ask them for forgiveness but he does not know how." After the pause Tarkovsky said that he had nothing else to add about his film to what the cleaning lady had to say.

I never understood complains that Zerkalo is a very confusing, difficult, and dark film. No, it is clear and deep as a mirror. Every time you look at the mirror, it will show you new depth and reflections. Past, presence, future, memory, love, guilt, forgiveness, beauty, sadness, nostalgia, and sacrifice - the mirror reflects it all -just watch closely.

My verdict - The Best Film ever made, the top of my list (tie with Andrei Rublyov).
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on June 16, 2000
First, regarding the framing 1:33 is very close to the original 1:37, but a little bit zoomed so lacking some parts of the picture but not too much. The quality of the master is very good (much better than any VHS) but not as good as many DVDs avialable on the market, especially compared to "Andrei Roublev" by Criterion. Also Kino on Video has transfered the monochromic newsreels in the movie (originally in sepia, orange, bronwnish tones) in plain B&W. What a pity. Last but not least, the foreign dialogues (spanish, and newsreels) are not translated, but in my opinion is not very important as it adds some mystery and make you feel like a stranger as if you were russian. Anyway, the movie is incredible and the DVD is quite good, colors scenes are stunning.
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on February 22, 2004
In his films, Andrei Tarkovsky rarely gives the audience any help in grasping what is happening on the screen. He demands a level of attention and receptivity which is not always automatic with most audiences, since our viewing habits are formed by easier stuff. It's a bit like trying to read Heidegger or Kant after a life of reading nothing but pulp novels. In my estimation "Mirror" is his most difficult film. A depiction of the inner world of a dying man, the film jumps between different eras of the protagonist's life, with sometimes only very subtle connections between them. Shots are often composed for their emotional impact, rather than their narrative effect, the idea being that the audience will feel what the protagonist feels as he reflects on his life.
I often see films described as poetry, but here is a case where that comparison is most precise. Like poetry, layers of meaning are waiting to be discovered in this film. Each time I watch this film it affects me more and more. My last viewing, perhaps my tenth, was the most profound. I encourage everyone to give this film the time it demands, and deserves, because the rewards are great.
The quality of this dvd, like others have written, is not the best. The version put out by Artificial Eye in the U.K. is reported to be superior, and is probably the better choice if you have a multi-region player. I have given this disc 5/5 stars because the film is so great it overpowers the limitations of the disc, and there isn't a compellingly better version available in Region 1 at the moment.
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on August 1, 2007
There is a scene in Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror where a young child looks through a book of art. The camera is close, showing only the pages of the book and the child's hand as he flips from picture to picture. Occasionally he will stop and linger on a favorite drawing. It is obvious that the book is a treasured possession, whose pictures have yet to lose their magic for the young boy. At one point a leaf, pressed between the pages, comes into view only to be swallowed up again.

This seemingly innocuous scene, halfway through the movie, is just one small example of why The Mirror is unquestionably my favorite movie ever. The film is the pure essence of nostalgia and each viewing is a revelation of memories I had long thought lost. I too had certain favorite books that I would turn to over and over again, flipping through their pages and taking comfort in the familiar pictures. I too would often press flowers and leaves between the pages of books with my parents.

Watching this movie feels like memories of the past flooding back from some forgotten abyss. The grey rainy skies, the kittens licking up cream, the flickering kerosene lantern, the sledding on the hill, the small junk pile in the forest, the snow covered trees, the wooden floors and furniture, the windswept fields, the log fence, all of these things are important images from my childhood. And yet there is far more to The Mirror than that.

Tarkovsky reaches beyond mere concrete memories. Many moments in the film have an almost mystical appeal. The slow static shot of the disappearing handprint on the table mesmerizes the eye until the final trace has gone. The bottle that inexplicably rolls off the table seems to act of its own volition. The man walking away in a great field of grass who turns to the camera just as one mighty gust of wind sweeps across the field towards the viewer and is gone. Scenes such as these are joined seamlessly with the movie and serve to reinforce the almost dreamlike reality we are presented with.

The music, selected from Pergolesi, Purcell, and J.S. Bach is, amazingly, equal to the images. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the superlative final scene set to Bach's monumental opening chorus from St. John's Passion. It is the single most moving scene I have ever viewed on film, its central images consisting of little more than a woman biting her lip and a child shouting a great life affirming cry to the skies while Bach's painfully beautiful music builds to an epic climax. The perfect union of film and music found in this scene is staggering in its power.

I suspect I am not the only one who considers himself a kindred spirit to The Mirror. Growing up in rural Kansas without a great deal of money surely helps, but the images are more universal than the tone of these passages lets on. Perhaps that is part of The Mirror's appeal: to those who identify with it, it seems as though the movie was made only for them.

This theory gains a great deal of credence when I think of the parts of The Mirror I don't feel such a strong connection to. I had no lack of a father figure as a child yet that dominant plot point somehow doesn't stand in the way of my identification with the movie. I obviously didn't grow up in the middle of a war and have no connection with Russian politics and history, but again, it makes no difference. Oddly enough, these two central ideas in the movie don't even seem to register when I look back on it.

So just what is the mirror about? The Time Out film guide sums it up quite well saying: "Tarkovsky goes for the great white whale of politicized art - no less than a history of his country in this century seen in terms of the personal - and succeeds." That is a rather broad description and not a particularly exciting one. Of course if that were all that the movie was about, I would not be writing this review.

When it comes down to it, The Mirror is an elusive film to classify. I've seen it over and over and still have a hard time getting a firm grip on its structure. Powerful images with their own internal logic flit by, skittering at the edges of our consciousness like the memories of a lost day from our childhood. Complex narratives follow children and adults, past and present. Powerful documentary footage is interspersed along with slow motion dream sequences. The closest description I can come up with is that The Mirror is a collection of images, all related and all central to the human experience.

The Mirror is Tarkovsky's finest film, and for certain kindred souls it truly will be a mirror. A mirror to every memory long thought lost, it will show each person who looks a different reflection.
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