It's Nice To Fall With A Pretty Woman: The Mirror (1975)

This will not be the first time that Andrei Tarkovsky has received high praise on my blog, and considering he has made quite a few well-received films, many of which found their way on the short list of the most recent Sight and Sound Best films list.  While I have certainly advocated for Abbas Kiarostami being the best reflection of what the title of my blog represents, it is certainly not out of order to suggest that, as a filmmaker, Tarkovsky creates simulacrums of reality, in the case of this film particularly an incredibly personal piece of cinema that its, as always non-linear, non-spatial and flat out transcendental of cinematic tradition.  As a film, The Mirror moves between past, present and possibly future events all with the intent of helping one unseen individual reflect on their life, however, as is becoming the case with every Tarkovsky film I encounter the single human existence appears to be inextricably tied to a much larger conceptualization of human suffering.  Whether it be simple concerns of correcting paper typos or larger realization of coming of age woes, The Mirror shows the ever existing fragility of humanity, particularly in its fleeting and flickering movements.  The Mirror, as Tarkovsky's films prove to be, is incredibly complex, however, it is a thoroughly captivating work, one that traps viewers into his aural, oral and visual poetics that evolve and reemerge repeatedly throughout the film, especially in regards to one female who clearly affects the narrator on multiple levels.  To call The Mirror experimental is to miss the purpose of the film, because while it does contest viewers assumptions about cinematic space, this is not to further our rhetoric of editing, camerawork or mise-en-scene.  Nothing about The Mirror suggests a jarring film, although it is beautiful and visually arresting.  One could find themselves simply putting this on silent and playing it in the background, realizing that it is a continual flow of minor artworks, coalescing in to what may well be the late Russian directors masterpiece.

The Mirror loosely centers on the experiences of an unseen individual named Alyosha (Ignet Daniltsev). These experiences range from simple child hood moments of playing with his sister, to an uncomfortable relationship with a youth spent in the Army.  In many instances his memories are projected through the experiences of others as is quite apparent during the recounting of a woman's terrible experiences dealing with a awful mistake at a newspaper press.  In other instances his memories are even transcendent of space as the visual world imagines the untranslated memories of a Spanish man recounting a famous bull fight.  Sprinkled in between these memories are moments in which Alyosha appears to be talking directly to the individuals in the present, specifically when talking to his lover, who may or may not also be his mother Maria (Margarita Terekhova).  In these moments it works in a point of view manner, although it could be argued that it is always Alyosha's vision configuring the space.  In many moments, the passage of time happens within a single shot, as is the case with the burning house, as a camera captures two children staring out a window, only to pan a bit to the left and depict one of the children slightly older.  The film is also split up by poems, ones that seem to indirectly relate to the narrative.  Eventually viewers are returned to an intense argument between Alyosha and Maria, one that is quickly followed by images of a post-war Soviet Union.   In this moment Maria is depicted at various ages, completely dismissing the already fragmented organization of time and space offered up to this point.

I mention this is perhaps Tarkovsky's best film and while I will stick to my guns on this statement, I should mention that my personal favorite is Ivan's Childhood, the directors debut.  However, what makes The Mirror so significant is that it clearly merges all of the human condition issues evoked in his previous works.  I mean to say that The Mirror takes the issues of coming of age indicative in Ivan's Childhood and meshes it with the existential crisis of worth noted in Andrei Rublev, while also considering the notion of deja vu and memory that emerges within Solaris.  Scenes in The Mirror often do all three, most clearly in the gun training sequence of the film.  However, the magic of this film is not solely in regards to his merging of previous films, but has much to do with how he considers the notion of representation on film.  It is clear that Tarkovsky strives desperately to recreate his world to the best of his ability via film.  However, some elements of humanity simply cannot be procured with a simple shoot and view method and needs poetic grandeur, or a complete lack of color.  The moments of Maria showering, or houses crumbling assure this notion.  Of course, Tarkovsky is not ignorant to the inherent troubles in attempting to make a simulacrum of the fleeting and ever-changing element of human existence.  To accept this challenge, Tarkovsky incorporates several scenes of the characters staring into mirrors reminding those watching that this film while representative of human existence, nonetheless, fails to capture individuality and it is perhaps well overdue that each individual take a good long look at themselves in the literal and metaphorical mirror, after all this is precisely what Tarkovsky is doing to himself in this crowning cinematic achievement.

Key Scene:  Some of the first black and white shots in the film depict a house falling apart into puddles of water, it is poetic subtlety in its most realized form.

This is an excellent film and well worth owning.  The Kino DVD stands as the best option until a bluray comes out in the future, if such a dream even proves reasonable.

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