This is Strictly Film School's review of Mirror:
Zerkalo, 1975 [Mirror/The Looking Glass]
Mirror is Andrei Tarkovsky's visually transcendent, artistically revelatory autobiographical film on lost innocence and emotional abandonment. Presented as a languidly paced, achronological cinematic montage of modern day life, personal memories, historical news footage, and dreams, Mirror is an introspective journey through the course of human existence, hope and despair, success and frailty: a television broadcast of a young man seemingly cured from stuttering through hypnosis; a neglected wife (Margarita Terekhova) humoring a village doctor who has lost his way; a custodial argument between a faceless narrator (Innokenty Smoktunovsky) and his ex-wife; a precocious young man trying the patience of his military instructor (Yuri Nazarov). To attempt to conform these images into some coherent plot or universal conclusion is meaningless. After all, Mirror is a reflection of Tarkovsky's haunted soul: his search for spirituality, connection, Truth - exposed through indelible images that inevitably define our own imperfect lives, however trivial or mundane.
Andrei Tarkovsky deliberately obscures time by using the same actors to portray the two phases of the narrator's life: the fatherless boy attempting to reach out to his distracted mother, and the distant father unable to relate to his self-absorbed son. Anachronistic newsreels of world events are interspersed to provide environmental reference and tonal shift. The structure of the film constantly evolves through the use of flashbacks and flash forwards, defined through chromatic shifts. This results in a film that is thematically cyclical, reflecting the narrator's pattern of alienation and emotional isolation. The absence of logical order in the film elicits a visceral reaction from the audience: the knowledge that we have experienced truth in all its intoxicating beauty and desperate longing... and perhaps even a brief connection with the artist himself. This is a ridiculous review.
— Ah Q (Strictly Film School)
Here is my unnecessarily hostile response:
"The absence of logical order in the film elicits a visceral reaction from the audience:"
It's not the absence of logical order that elicits a visceral reaction from the audience, it's the scenes themselves. Each frame of every scene elicits a visceral reaction. You can watch them in any order you like, and you'll still react to them as the visual poetry they are. That said, there is nothing illogical about the order in Mirror. You think Tarkovsky simply shot his twelve or so scenes and then just told his editorial crew "Okay, you guys put these in whatever order you want. I've got somewhere to be." Ack! The logic in Mirror is the logic of poetry. If you took a Robert Frost poem and moved the stanzas around, most people would still say it's a great poem. But no one would say it makes more sense than the original. If poetry were merely a set of great images in no particular order, than you and I would be great poets. If you don't think Tarkovsky is a great poet, then I challenge you to a duel right now.
"To attempt to conform these images into some coherent plot or universal conclusion is meaningless."
The only thing meaningless here is your statement. Mirror definitely does not have a conventional plot or one simple conclusion. But there are major themes running throughout the film, and you absolutely can interpret the elements into a coherent, meaningful whole. I just haven't.
"A precocious young man trying the patience of his military instructor."
Silly Amazon Review
Reviewer: Charles Tashiro (see more about me) from Santa Monica, CA USA
Pleasures of the Ineffable, December 5, 2001
As with all work by the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, "The Mirror" is an enigmatic, not quite describable film composed of finely honed imagery and evocative sounds that combine to produce an experience both delicate and overpowering at the same time. Tarkovsky's is among the most personal of personal filmmaking, in which each film seems a quest to re-invent the cinema over and over again. Rooted in the rhythms and routines of the everyday, his films are nonetheless the opposite of banal, finding in a glass of spilled milk or the movement of the wind through the trees an exquisite opening on to the transcendent.
For such an uncompromising, original artist, every film is in a sense autobiographical, a record of his thoughts and feelings at the moment of filming. Yet in this, Tarkovsky's most explicitly autobiographical film (it is based on his childhood experiences during World War II), the results are relatively unsatisfying. There are still breathtakingly beautiful images, arresting sequences of inexplicable power, the same singular vision. What is surprising is how *fashionable* "The Mirror" is, and as a result, how dated. Made in the early 1970s, "The Mirror" indulges in many late 60s/early 70s mannerisms, including a non-linear narrative, stream-of-consciousness editing, dreams to explain the irrational and the use of newsreel footage as a kind of collective memory.
While masterfully employed, these techniques are not really worthy of a director who has proven repeatedly his ability to move beyond fashion and create his own standards. Dependent on editing, these devices are also just a tad removed from Tarkovsky's basic skills. His best work flows with the coursing sparkle of the streams and puddles he loves to film. There are times in the "The Mirror," on the other hand, when the cuts from one shot or scene to another are more forced than flowing, a touch too disconnected to compel as anything other than filmmaking necessity.
"The Mirror" is nonetheless vividly textured, with an almost voracious response to light, shade and materials. (I have never seen a more effective use of the *grain* of film stock to enhance the tactile qualities of the image.) Like "Solaris," it makes a good introduction to Tarkovksy's work for viewers who might be a little put off by his more uncompromising efforts. Which is to say that in addition to dating the film, "The Mirror's" stylishness works to smooth over some of the director's rough edges. Viewers already familiar with Tarkovsky's cinema will not be seriously disappointed, perhaps just a little surprised, as I was, that he too could succumb to the momentarily fashionable.
— Amazon Reviews
Here is my appropriately hostile response:
It never ceases to amuse me when people who are "experts and fans" of a certain artist suddenly react harshly to a particular work. What is it that causes people to fall off the train (usually somewhere around the fourth film)? I suspect it's because they were never really on it for the right reasons. Unless the artist suddenly goes insane, which is clearly not the case here. However, there might be a better explanation for what has happened here. However, this review does make many valid statements, some of which he probably thought of himself. But accusing Tarkovsky of "succumbing to the momentarily fashionable"? Wow. This little tantrum reminds me very much of Francesco Dal Co's now-classic spasm over Tadao Ando's Pavillion at Seville. And so for your punishment, I make you watch the same clip I made Mr. Dal Co watch.
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