Last year, I decided to start a weekly blog, entitled “A Movie a Week.” Inspired by Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” series and AICN’s Quint’s “A Movie a Day” (and later, “A Movie a Week”) series, I decided to look at older movies in my collection. Some, I had wanted to write about for a while (“L.A. Confidential,” “Braveheart,” “Andrei Rublev”), some I was inspired to do as I went along (“Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom,” “Friday the 13th: Part VI- Jason Lives”), and some I’d never seen before, but was curious about (“What the Bleep Do We Know!?,” “Bride of the Monster”).
It was an interesting experiment. Some movies were reconsidered from my first viewings (most notably, “The Birth of a Nation”), some had my love of them put in writing for the first time. Some were planned to be reviewed for specific current releases (“Dark City,” “Titanic”), while others were inspired by a more stream-of-conscious philosophy (Netflix rental “Salo,” recent purchase “Jason Lives”).
This week, the first year ends. 2010 will provide some equally interesting selections. Some more movies I’ve wanted to review for a while. Some I haven’t seen. Some I’ve decided to try re-evaluate. For now, I’ll close out my first year of “A Movie a Week” with another poetic masterwork from the filmmaker who started this series- Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Mirror”. I hope you enjoy it, and I’ll see you in 2010!
Viva La Resistance!
To read Brian’s blog on the Best Films of the past decade, click here.
“The Mirror”– A+
Andrei Tarkovsky begins “The Mirror” on the strangest of notes. He shows a woman performing some sort of hypnotism on a young man- who actually resembles what I suspect Tarkovsky looked like as a young man- to where his speech becomes less stunted while she makes his hands ridged. When she lets him go, the titles come on.
In content, this sequence has nothing to do with the rest of the film, which is a free-form look at the director’s life, his relationships with his parents, and growing up in Russia during WWII. But in a way, it’s an ideal opening for such a personal work- Tarkovsky is really giving us a glimpse at a director’s job. After all, part of what directing is involves telling his actors how to behave, and how to speak.
It’s been seven years since I first watched “The Mirror.” I’d forgotten so much about this film (it’s beautiful images not being among them). Namely, how far-reaching and audacious Tarkovsky was in his approach. Working with co-writer Alexander Misharin, Tarkovsky was never one for easy cinematic narrative, but of the seven features he made, none was more challenging that this one. It’s like Tarkovsky put a film camera in his brain and put it on film.
If you aren’t already a Tarkovsky fan, this is not the place to start (my suggestion would be his adaptation of “Solaris,” then “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Rublev”). We get moments between an unseen man (one suspects Tarkovsky- a poster of “Andrei Rublev” is hanging up) and his estranged mother talking on the phone. We get a couple breaking up, and the effects it has on their son. We see a young woman at a printing press misplace a corrected document for printing. And we see an insubordinate young boy being trained by the military. We see a young woman caring for her two children- representing Tarkovsky’s childhood. And we see much sepia-toned stock footage that work to provide context to some of the more abstract vignettes. And throughout, we get poetic readings of the work of his father Arseni, who reads his own words with loving care and beauty.
This is not a one-and-done moviewatching experience. This was my second viewing, and honestly, I’m not anywhere near getting down to the bottom of it. If anything, I feel a little less clear than I was before. But it’s impossible not to be drawn into the film’s mysterious beauty. Tarkovsky is working with his most personal materials here, and the result is haunting and not easily forgotten (I know I didn’t forget it in the years after my first viewing; well, its’ images at least). Part of why I love Tarkovsky’s work like I do is his artistic bravery- he’s fearless in his approach, and emotionally, his films are richer than we might expect from such an iconoclastic “artist.” Like Kubrick, he spent a career going against the grain of what was expected of him in his homeland’s film industry (and like Kubrick, he was an expatriate in his last years), imposing his own worldview on the audience through his art. But whereas Kubrick’s work was more sterile and lacking in a certain “human” touch (this isn’t a complaint, but an observation), Tarkovsky infused his films with his own emotional truths in a way that brought you closer to the characters, and allows you to identify with them in a way you just can’t with Kubrick.
One line in “The Mirror” rang true most particularly. For me, it’s the one that puts all of his professional work- from his diploma film “The Steamroller and the Violin” to “Andrei Rublev” to “Stalker” to “The Sacrifice” and even his extraordinary book “Sculpting in Time”- in focus, not only what each film strives to do but what Tarkovsky himself spent a career trying to do. The man and his wife, whose son Ignat is in the middle of their difficult separation, are having a conversation when one of their friends’- a writer- comes into the conversation. The man says of his friend, “He just can’t understand that a book is a deed, not a paycheck. A poet must stir the soul, not nuture idolaters.”
Tarkovsky has been gone from this world since 1986. Sadly, the philosophy he puts forth in that line is in too short a supply in modern movies. Maybe someone will read this, and take up that mantle. Any volunteers?
2009 â€œA Movie a Weekâ€ Reviews
“Andrei Rublev” (1966)
“Lady Beware” (1987)
“Patriot Games” (1992)
“L.A. Confidential” (1997)
“The Birth of a Nation” (1915)
“Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom” (1975)
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
“12 Monkeys” (1995)
“The Trial” (1962)
“Dark City” (1998)
“The Crow: City of Angels” (1996)
“The Truman Show” (1998)
“What the Bleep Do We Know!?” (2004)
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)
“Ghost in the Shell” (1995)
“The Lion King” (1994)
“Conspiracy Theory” (1997)
“The Proposition” (2006)
“The Road Warrior” (1982)
“An American Tail” (1986)
“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989)
“Lethal Weapon” (1987)
“Untitled: Almost Famous- The Bootleg Cut” (2000)
“Blown Away” (1994)
“Pulp Fiction” (1994)
“High Fidelity” (2000)
“Nurse Betty” (2000)
“Jackie Brown” (1997)
“Ed Wood” (1994)
“Friday the 13th: Part VI- Jason Lives” (1986)
“Stephen King’s It” (1990)
“Hour of the Wolf” (1968)
“Bride of the Monster” (1956)
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)
“Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey” (1993)
“The Woodsman” (2004)
“Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995)
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
“Into Great Silence” (2005)
“Heavenly Creatures” (1994)
“Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000)
“The Mirror” (1975)