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the mirror (andrei tarkovsky, 1975)

I seem to be catching up on Tarkovsky at last. A couple of months ago I watched Andrei Rublev and liked it. The same with Ivan’s Childhood, which I saw a couple of years ago. I still have bad memories of seeing Solaris when it came out ... it might have been a movie date with my wife-to-be, whatever it was, I was bored stiff.

Well, my reaction to The Mirror was closer to how I felt about Solaris. It didn’t bore me as much ... it’s an hour shorter, for one thing. But it feels like a movie that will “improve” with each viewing. Sam Ishii-Gonzales wrote, “[W]hat might appear confused, difficult, or opaque on first viewing becomes something else with repeated screenings. Having seen Mirror a half-dozen times, over a decade or so, in a number of different countries, it now appears to me as simplicity itself.” Your reaction to The Mirror might depend on how inviting Ishii-Gonzales’ remarks sound. Most people who know me understand that I generally resist movies that require multiple viewings to reveal their artistry. On occasion, I do return to movies that didn’t impress me the first time around, and once in a while I even change my opinion. But I am not fond of movies that only connect with me if I watch them six times.

This is not a criticism of Tarkovsky, who as an artist had every right to make his movies the way he wanted. And The Mirror seems like a film he was happy with. For that, I tip my hat. But I found the movie obscure and insular. It switches between color and black-and-white for no reason I could ascertain. It takes place in three different time periods. The same actress plays different roles in different periods. Tarkovsky mixes documentary footage into the film, and includes poetry readings in the voiceovers. It reminded me of the new television series Legion, which makes even less sense than The Mirror (yet I like Legion ... go figure).

The Mirror does have a saving grace: Margarita Terekhova, the one who plays two characters in two time periods. She improves every scene she is in, and she is in a lot of them. I can’t praise her performance enough. But because I was completely lost most of the time, Terekhova’s ability to raise the level of individual scenes is always only at the level of a scene. She didn’t help me understand the movie as a whole.

The Mirror ranks at #29 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10.

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