Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
Russian Title: Zerkalo
A young man (Ignat Daniltsev) turns on the television set; the program shows a stutteter being cured through hypnotism. Straightly, the stutterer proclaims "I can speak." Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror was suspended from filming by the Russian government thus allowing Tarkovsky to film Solaris (1972) instead. Tarkovsky's international acclaim forced the Russian government to finally allow him to film Mirror, interestingly a film that is emancipated from any political adventurism. Instead, the film is extremely personal --- composed of vignettes of Tarkovsky's recreated memories, dreams, and other visual compositions.
The next scene follows a lady (Margarita Terekhova) sitting atop a wooden fence. An unseen voice (Innokenti Smoktunovsky) narrates while a doctor appears from the grass fields to talk to the woman. It's an incandescent sequence; one that retains a poetic quality from the voiceover's luminous baritone to an eye-catching visual movement that ends with a cabin in flames and a downpour of rain at the same time. It's a gorgeous portrayal of a childhood memory. It doesn't seek to force reality from the unsure edges of reminiscence, but instead swoons into dreaminess and tackles symbolisms and spirituality alongside the aches of nostalgia.
Tarkovsky spans from a pastoral past, nightmarish reconstructions of personal and national history, and a vague yet fatalist representation of the present. The present concerns the unseen voiceover in his deathbed. We grasp glimpses of more recent events, all bearing the same weight of loss and a sense of connected sadness that drapes the events of the past. The man's wife (also played by Terekhova) argues with him regarding the custody of their child, Ignat (played by Daniltsev). The argument morphs into something nastier; accusations being hurled about his present fate being caused by being brought up by the mother; segued by conversations by Spanish tenants regarding bullfighting and more specific cultural nuances.
It's a work that is defined by its expansive world. While Tarkovsky's methods stir the individual soul, the film discusses more than the director's personal aches and demons. In one particularly well-directed sequence, Ignat is left alone by his mother in the apartment. He is called by a mysterious old woman who asks her to read from a diary; the passage is spoken with the naive confusion of a young boy but the words are meaningful and its depth concerns national identity. He finishes and answers the door. When he returns, the old woman is gone --- her only remnant is the dampness caused by the cup of tea she was sipping. Even that disappeared in a matter of captured seconds; the same way the remnants of history disappear in a matter of generations.
The images in the film are so beautiful, they're haunting. A kid stares at the image of himself in a horizontal mirror as the lamp flames die slowly. A burst of wind defines the leaving of a visiting doctor through a vast grassy field. In slow motion, a strong breeze topples a piece of rock and other ornaments atop an outdoor table.
The film shifts from lush colors to sepia; it doesn't matter, it always looks sublime. When Tarkovsky attempts for dreaminess, he succeeds in heaps. The wife sleeping and levitating; her hand caressed lovingly by the husband --- the effect is poignant. The dying man (his face is never revealed), the same way, caresses a bird and before the reel ends, throws the bird to flight. Tarkovsky's images, although they have amorphous definitions, are all pregnant with erupting beauty and power. You neglect logic and just flow and be affected with his artwork.
By the film's end, nothing is assuredly defined. The narrative still floats in an air of uncertainty. However, the little details Tarkovsky allows us to view are all tremendous. His personal history which also involves spiritual and familial battles, and his allusions to Russian history are all scraped deeply. Despite not being a complete picture, Tarkovsky allows us enough peepholes to see what boils underneath his creative head; and yes, finally, he can speak.