Thursday, May 3, 2012
A child turns on the TV to watch a woman questioning a guy who stutters... Mother Maria sits on a wooden fence in front of her house in the forest while a doctor shows up to ask for directions. A few days later, her two children observe the barn on fire... Alexei, now a grown up suffering from depression, talks with his mother over the phone...Back in the past, Maria is taunted by a colleague for overlooking a mistake in the printing press... After World War II, the children are reunited with their father... Back in the present, Alexei is suicidal while the doctor tries to talk him out of it mentioning what that would do to his mother... An older mother is walking with the children through the meadow.
Even though I appreciate him, director Andrei Tarkovsky was somehow never truly close to me, not even with this abstract personal movie shaped as a giant steam-of-consciousness put on a screen where he contemplates about his childhood. "The Mirror" is a certain delight, but never a complete one. In that slightly pretentious art-patchwork the famous director did not offer enough links that would connect all the vignettes into a meaningful whole, even though some scenes are poetry (a bird gently landing on a boy's hat; the mother floating above the bed; a steam "stain" slowly "melting" away on a cold mirror, signalling how fragile memories can fade away) whereas the sole idea that the main hero, Alexei (the director himself, obvious in one scene where the poster of "Andrei Rublyov" is seen on the wall), is never seen as a grown up, but just acts as a narrator, is rather inventive. Takrovsky has a masterful shot composition, yet his sole visual style is rather conventional when it could and should have been more "adventurous" on this occasion when he tried to capture a dreamy mood, but mostly did not (for instance, ironically, his first film "Ivan's Childhood" has a far more dreamy scene than any scene here when the title boy Ivan is seen floating over the meadow).
It is interesting how Tarkovsky plays with the medium in a couple of occasions, almost reaching metafilm proportions (his real mother has a small role near the end; the poems of his real life father are narrated and thus "rediscovered" in art) whereas he tries to contemplate how any period in time could be "captured" in its essence on film (i.e. in one sequence, the archive footage of World War II is juxtaposed with the images of a boy in the same time period, but playing in the snow oblivious to all those important historical landmarks happening around him, showing how "big" things in life are recorded, while "little" things are forgotten), even adding the leitmotiv of slightly distorted mirrors (broken or oval) to show how the objects and faces reflected on them are not identical, allegorically showing how even memories cannot be stored identically to how they happened. Some actors even play dual roles to deliberately confuse even more the foundation of memory. Unlike Peckinpah, who (in)famously had over 3,500 takes in his film "The Wild Bunch", Tarkovsky's takes are somehow more "precious" since there are only about 200 cuts in this film that say more, yet even when all is said and done, the story is simply poor with true emotions and thus the joy is damped. "The Mirror" is a heavy existential drama, but it is more experimental than cohesive in its (too)hermetic anti-narration.