Written by Wan Tyszkiewicz
This is my favourite film, and has been for more than 25 years. Rotten Tomatoes award this respected piece of art 100%. So it must be good, right? Well… if you haven’t watched or studied the classics and you’ve spent your formative years immersed in technology, gaming and the world of Marvel, then ‘Mirror’ probably won’t appeal to you. Which is a shame, because I would argue that this film works on a subliminal level. It has a slow rhythm, poetic style and obscure content that is a million miles from the fast paced pyrotechnics of today’s film output. Yet this is one of the most beautiful and visually stunning films that you will ever see on the screen.
‘Mirror’ is a non-linear stream of consciousness loosely based on Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky’s life. One of the narrators in the film is Tarkovsky’s father Arseny, who uses his own poetry to extol and weave parts of the film’s non-existent story. The protagonist in this film is Alexei; a dying poet who shares his thoughts and memories through a series of flashbacks and dream sequences. The cinematography segues between black and white, sepia and colour and also uses historical newsreel footage. Heavily laden with symbolism, the film touches on Alexei’s childhood, from 1935 through the war years of the 1940s and post-war USSR of the 1960s and 70s. There is an incredible slow motion dream sequence in the film where Alexei’s mother Maria is seen washing her hair. It’s hard to describe the symbolism in this imagery, but I’ve never met anyone who has watched this segment of the film and failed to be deeply and inexplicably moved by this scene.
‘Mirror’ was in development for a decade; in an era of imposed censorship and strict government guidelines, it is nothing short of miraculous that Tarkovsky managed to make this film and overcome bureaucratic sanctions to obtain a very restricted distribution. Tarkovsky’s honesty and self-revelation would have been antithetical at a time when communist ideology suppressed any notion of the individual. Yet not only is the film ostensibly about Tarkovsky, it also stars his mother Larisa Tarkovskaya as well as his father. The lead female Margarita Terekhova plays Alexei’s mother when she is young and also his wife in the postwar scenes. Her performance throughout is captivating and embodies an ethereal quality. The Russian people loved ‘Mirror’ and although many were confounded by the non-linear structure, most understood the symbolism that described the struggles of everyday people during the war and the postwar years. Since then ‘Mirror’ has continued to attract critical acclaim and support over many decades and can now be found on just about every top list of films ever made.
Andrei Tarkovsky made seven brilliant films before his life was cut short at the age of 54. Tarkovsky and his wife both died from the same type of lung cancer; but there has been a great deal of speculation suggesting that they were murdered by the KGB, using a radioactive agent as punishment for defecting to the west. But that is another story.
‘Mirror’ is a film academic’s dream – a perfect text that exemplifies several complex film theories all in one place. Yet this film is accessible to anybody, provided you don’t try and view it when you’re tired or looking to switch off. Think of it as a visual meditation, like sitting on a beach listening to the ocean and watching the waves. This film is good for the soul. You don’t have to be a film student, an academic or anything more than a film enthusiast perhaps looking for a different filmic experience. Don’t read into it. Just accept the first thing that comes into your mind because that will be the right interpretation.
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova