Sunday, April 29, 2012

Through the looking glass

Tarkovsky opens Mirror in a very Chekhovian way with a lonely woman waiting for her husband to return to a country house when another man turns off the road and comes to flirt with her.  He is a country doctor and playfully jests with her as one would imagine Astrov with Jelena in Uncle Vanya, but she's having none of it, or so it would seem.

The husband never returns, and the focus of the film switches to her son recounting his youth through the many reflections of a mirror.  We don't find out much about the son, or even see him.  He floats in a state of semi-consciousness brought on by some illness or fatigue, drifting back and forth in time.  The event cuts, as Ryland Walker Knight describes them are distilled images held in a form of suspended animation in the narrator's mind.  But, it is not a cold abstract film.

It is a very emotional and moving film that speaks volumes for the state many Russians found themselves after WWII, reflecting back on those days between the wars, especially the upheaval caused by the civil war that left many families irrevocably split.  But, even with all the allusions to war, the Chinese revolution and the subsequent Soviet-Chinese tensions, the film ultimately deals with how a brother and sister resolve their feelings for their mother.

Margarita Terekhova plays the mother in this film.  Oleg Yankovsky plays only a fleeting role as the absent father, not because of war, but domestic differences.  The mother is forced to bring up her children on her own and her son has come to regret this and offers to take care of his sister's son so that he will have the father figure he so deeply misses.

Terekhova is a force majeure.  She is to the Soviet screen what Meryl Streep is to the American screen.  There is no actress quite like her, and she can draw so much out of such simple scenes.  The scene where she comes to the printing office in the rain to check the proofs of a book once more because of a dream she had is one such scene.  It seems so little.  She frets over one word, but she captures the mood so well, even when her editor chastises her for stopping the presses for one of her petty anxieties, saying this is why your husband left you.  Terekhova retreats to the shower room, only for the hot water to go out on her.

The scenes aren't always so straight, some are like dreams or shards of magical realism, like the scene where  the son remembers his father helping to wash his mother's hair.  It is a lovely evocative scene reminiscent of pre-Raphaelite paintings.  This really is a masterwork, and has been beautifully restored in the Artificial Eye box set.

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