Wed, 06 Dec 2023

Mirror (Zerkalo)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay: Aleksandr Misharin & Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Margarita Terekhova (Natalya / Maroussia), Oleg Yankovskiy (The Father), Filipp Yankovskiy (Aleksei, 5 years old), Ignat Daniltsev (Ignat / Aleksei, 12 years old), Nikolay Grinko (Printery Director), Alla Demidova (Lisa), Yuriy Nazarov (Military trainer), Anatoliy Solonitsyn (Forensic doctor), Larisa Tarkovskaya (Nadezha, Mother of 12-year-old Alexei), Tamara Ogorodnikova (Nanny / Neighbour / Strange woman at the tea table), Yuri Sventisov (Yuri Zhary)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1975
Country: Soviet Union
Mirror Criterion Collection Blu-ray


By the time he made Mirror (Zerkalo), the fourth of his seven features and the second-to-last to be made in the Soviet Union, director Andrei Tarkovsky was accustomed to controversy and contention. Although his directorial debut, Ivan's Childhood (1962), was praised by both Soviet and international critics as a compelling, expressionistic portrait of the horrors of war through a child's eyes, his second film, Andrei Rublev (1966), an unconventional portrait of the legendary 15th-century Russian icon painter, ran into trouble with Goskino, the USSR State Committee for Cinematography, which battled with Tarkovsky over numerous cuts of the film and attempted to suppress its distribution. He had less trouble with his science fiction masterpiece Solaris (1972), an adaptation of Stainslaw Lem's novel, but it was still criticized by Soviet critics for being too cerebral and philosophical.

An even more hostile reception awaited Mirror, which is both Tarkovsky's most explicitly autobiographical film and also his most unconventional. While his previous works often violated the norms of traditional, mainstream cinema, they nevertheless exist firmly in relation to a recognizable genre and follow some basic conventions of storytelling. Mirror, on the other hand, is largely unmoored from the constraints of narrative and convention, free-flowing like poetry in a series of loosely related vignettes that represent the fleeting memories of a dying man interwoven with crucial moments in Soviet history. The fact that memory and fantasy are often intertwined and there is no way of discerning one from the other is central to the film's effectiveness; Tarkovsky doesn't ask us to understand the film so much as he wants us to experience it, to feel it. We might make some connections, we might not, but the film's power still stands in the evocative nature of its imagery and the compelling manner in which Tarkovsky abandons any pretenses of convention, a daring move for a Soviet director who had already spent the majority of his professional career in conflict with government authorities who barely tolerated him because his films were well-received at international film festivals.

Much of the film is built around fragmented memories based on Tarkovsky's own childhood experiences, some of which, as he wrote in his book Sculpting in Time, "made a deep impression on [him] as a child, [and] continued to torment [him]." These memories include the war-time evacuation of Moscow and his training in school by a military instructor; much of the story takes place in and around Tarkovsky's grandfather's rural home, a wooden structure that was reconstructed based on family photographs. Tarkovsky's on-screen surrogate is a boy named Aleksei, who we see primarily as a 5-year-old (Filipp Yankovskiy) in the mid-1930s and a 12-year-old (Ignat Daniltsev) during World War II (he also appears mostly off-screen as an adult).

Central to Aleksei's memories is the figure of his mother, Natalya (Margarita Terekhova), who is as much a central character as anyone. There are sequences involving Natalya that can't be explained as memory, given that they involve aspects of her life of which her son was not a part (including an extended sequence involving her work as a proof-reader for a printer and her fear that she has made a grievous mistake that must be corrected). The largely absent father (Oleg Yankovskiy) is also central, and familial discord and fracturing is reflected in both the splintered nature of the film's narrative and the replay of Aleksei's childhood through his adulthood and broken relationship with his wife (also, not incidentally, played by Terekhova). Although the film was scripted by Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Misharin, the film was a fluid work throughout production that took shape during the filming. As Tarkovsky wrote, "we made it a deliberate point of principle not to have the picture worked out and arranged in advance, before the material had been filmed. It was important to see how, under what conditions, the film could take shape as it were by itself."

Such an approach is obviously fraught with danger, but it suits Tarkovsky's ambitions in Mirror. Fundamentally enigmatic and opaque, it engages us as on an almost subconscious level with its beautiful, evocative imagery and rejection of chronological flow or obvious narrative connections. Its form is that of a dream, a beautifully modulated evocation of the mind at work in its final moments, blurring together the real and the fantastical, memories and vision, held together not with the strains of logic, but rather with the deepest wells of associative emotion. If Mirror leaves an impression on you, it is likely because of its singularity of vision, the way in which it brings to the fore the uniqueness of each moment in our lives, even if those moments feel isolated and disconnected. Every moment is a world in itself.

Mirror Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio1.37:1

  • Russian Linear PCM 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish

  • Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer, a 2019 documentary byAndrei A. Tarkovsky
  • The Dream in the Mirror, documentary by Louise Milne and Sen Martin
  • Video interview with composer Eduard Artemyev
  • Islands: Georgy Rerberg, 2007 documentary
  • Archival interviews with Tarkovsky and screenwriter Alexander Misharin
  • Essay by critic Carmen Gray and the 1968 film proposal and literary script by Tarkovsky and Misharin
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateJuly 6, 2021

    Criterion's Blu-ray edition of Mirror features a new 2K transfer of the film from the original 35mm camera negative that was restored by Mosfilm. Like Criterion's previous releases of Tarkovsky's films, this one looks absolutely gorgeous. Past editions of the film on both DVD and Blu-ray have been heavily criticized on numerous fronts, including the color palette (with some editions looking strangely pink and/or teal), but that all seems to have been corrected here. The image boasts strong, naturalistic colors that are very much in keeping with the look of Tarkovsky's other films. The image is thick and filmlike, with great contrast and grain structure. I don't think we could ask for it to look much better. The original monaural soundtrack is presented on a lossless PCM Linear track that sounds great. Tarkovsky often uses subtle environmental sound effects to create an enveloping sense of space, which works quite well here despite the limited scope of the track. The music, which mixes original pieces by Eduard Artemev (who had previously scored Tarkovsky's Solaris and would go on to score Stalker) with classical pieces by Purcell, Pergolesi, and Bach, also sounds great.

    As for the supplements-well, where to begin? We might start by noting that there are so many that they had to be spread across two Blu-rays. The disc with the film also includes Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer, a 105-minute documentary from 2019 that was directed by Tarkovsky's son, Andrei A. Tarkovsky. Like his father, Tarkovsky does not proceed in a straightforward fashion, instead giving us an elliptical, poetic portrait of his father's life and career. The second disc opens with The Dream in the Mirror, a new 54-minute documentary by Louise Milne and Sen Martin that features new interviews with film scholars and historians, as well as many of Tarkovsky's collaborators and family members. We also get a number of supplements that focus on Tarkovsky's collaborators on Mirror, starting with a new 22-minute interview with composer Eduard Artemyev and a 30-minute interview from 2004 with screenwriter Alexander Misharin. We also get a 2007 Russian television documentary about cinematographer Georgy Rerberg that coves the entirety of his career, but puts special emphasis on his work on Mirror. From the archive Criterion has pulled out several short interviews with Tarkovsky that appeared on French television in 1978, one from 1 p.m. News and the other from Nord-Pas-de-Calais News. The perfect-bound insert booklet (which, truth be told, is really more of a book) includes an essay by critic Carmen Gray and the 1968 film proposal and literary script by Tarkovsky and Misharin that eventually became Mirror.

    Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3.5)


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