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The Mirror (1975) Andrei Tarkovsky

    Tarkovsky's films seem to expect a lot from the audience, and this one seems to want more than most. Perhaps, we're fortunate that the director keeps the running time under two hours here, then. The Mirror is exceptionally self-referential, if I'm to believe what I've read about it, and it sure felt that way as I watched it. The film's narrative is somewhat obscured, but it basically consists of the regrets of a man that is dying in his 40's. The film flashes back from this time period to what seems to be around WWII in his childhood. Both time periods use the same actors in a variety of roles (including the ballsy choice of casting the same woman as the lead's love interest and mother) of and the adult narrator is rarely (if ever) seen on screen, which adds to the confusion. We're never sure whether we're in the present time or the past, so whenever the film switches time periods, it feels as if we're in the here and now.

    The film is a phantasmagoric experience. Most of the images that we see are absolutely stunning, and Tarkovsky has an uncanny knack for focusing on one mind-blowing vista, then moving his camera to three more within the same shot. Perhaps it's because of the protagonist's closeness to death, and his imminent departure from the corporeal world, but the film has an obsession with physical things. The camera stops to notice the wind blowing, a spoon as it teeters then falls from a table, or the condensation from a glass as it evaporates. The film takes everyday items and makes them feel surreal. It's a remarkable achievement in cinematography.

    The performances are uniformly excellent. It's interesting that a film that is so insular allows such a fully developed supporting cast. Surprisingly, the film's introverted themes never feel self-indulgent, since Tarkovsky adds enough universality to the themes of death and regret. His protagonist's eventual coming to terms with his own death is quite beautifully staged, and the scenes afterward suggest he was able to attain a reconciliation with himself before dying. I do admit that there are some scenes in the film that I cannot quite place, and imagine another viewing would do wonders. I imagine my hesitancy in declaring the film a masterpiece has more with my own failings as a viewer than the film's deficiencies. This is the sort of film that starts you off without a net and leaves you to find your own footing. Some might view that as torture, but I see it more as a too-uncommon challenge.

* * * *

October, 2001

Jeremy Heilman