Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nostalghia (1983)

Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983)

Removed from his native Russia, Andrei Tarkovsky creates his penultimate film Nostalghia in Italy. Not surprisingly, the film echoes Tarkovsky's longing for his homeland, shown in the beginning as a scene captured from inside a structure through a glassy window pane in sepia tones. These sepia-toned sequences are interspersed throughout the feature, presumably detailing a fading sense of home --- no longer distinct memories but mere emotions, nostalgia. The length of time away from Russia, the overpowering cultural influences of Italy --- all these turn images of home into murky and amorphous visualizations of the Russian countryside which is very distinct from the geometric precision of Italy's vistas, with its grandiose cathedrals and architectural structures.

Tarkovsky lays out the film in simplistic fashion. There are no narrative nuances or dramatic arcs that forward the plot. It seems that his cinema breathes from the gorgeous tableaus he creates and the evocative lingering of his camera that slowly reveals emotional lines in the faces or the quiet gestures that were previously hidden. It is dense with spiritual and thematic weight; and it feels like Tarkovsky can talk about so many things simultaneously using his infallible imagery and symbolisms. Ever-present are his persistent representations of rain, of fire, of birds and dogs, and his troubled male protagonist with an aching desire of profound nature. We can barely scrape the surface of Tarkovsky's art yet even with the meager and incomplete appreciation of Tarkovsky's masterpiece, hungers are satisfied.

Andrei (Oleg Yankovsky) is a poet who is traveling through Italy to retrace the life of Sosnovsky, a composer who became famous in Italy but decided to repatriate to become a serf in his country. His only companion is Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano), his translator. Tarkovsky initiates the film in a barren field wherein a car drives past the frame, only to reveal in the foreground. Eugenia appears and invites Andrei to see a famous painting of the Madonna; the latter refuses the offer saying that he is tired of seeing all these beautiful things. The sequence inside the chapel gives us a quiet glimpse of Eugenia's character. Formidably juxtaposed with the pious women and the the idolized Mary, she questions an old man why it is mostly women who pray in the chapel. The old man declares his simplicity and proclaims the duties of women as mothers. Before leaving the chapel, she witnesses a little miracle, of Mary's statue opening up to reveal dozens of birds in flight.

A subtle romance can be observed between Andrei and Eugenia. In their hotel's lobby, they discuss of poetry and music. Andrei nonchalantly challenges Eugenia's admiration for Arseni Tarkovsky's poetry which according to him cannot be appreciated in its translated form; he goes on proclaiming that national barriers should be removed. Andrei is reluctant and obviously separated from the world. His knowledge of Italian is enough but insists on using a translator to converse with people, until he meets Domenico (Erland Josephson), the town's madman who is reported to have trapped his family in his home in order to save them from the apocalypse. His need for Eugenia no longer persists and Eugenia can no longer stand the man Andrei is becoming --- closer to the laughing stock Domenico is, with his amazement with the vagueness of religion and faith.

In a scene wherein Eugenia confronts Andrei, she reveals her breast, taunting Andrei to admit that that is all he wants in her. Although extrinsically, the confrontation connotes a sexual linkage between the two individuals, a more apt interpretation can be given. Looking back, we witness Eugenia's reluctance to appreciate motherhood as a woman's primary aspect. Upon defeat by Domenico, she reluctantly compromises and offers just exactly that, a breast, the symbol for motherhood.

Domenico then requests Andrei to complete his mission: to cross the sulfuric baths with a lighted candle. Away from Eugenia, Andrei succumbs to soulsearching --- images of Russia are slowly intermixed with that of Rome, both in sepia, presumably both forming a part of Andrei's spiritual ache. Little bits and pieces of his homeland appear --- the gorgeously lighted greens of Russia take centerstage in Domenico's unkempt lair, murky mossy puddle water floods a ruined church, Domenico's dog is also very prominent in Andrei's own dreams. It is during these moments that Andrei feels most human, most susceptible to contact.

The film ends the same way Solaris ends, with an image as haunting or uplifting as it is sublime. Andrei sits comfortably in a pastoral landscape --- the same cabin which appears in his murky memories are in the background. Tarkovsky's camera zooms out to reveal a masterful surprise --- the landscape becomes sheltered within the structure of a ruined cathedral. Droplets of rain start pouring and at once, we are confounded with the repercussions of that phantasmagoric last scene. Yet it's not totally out of place as it appears in sepia; not as an imagery as real as his arguments with Eugenia or Domenico's tragic speeches in Rome, it's equal to the feelings of longing, of nostalgia he has for his homeland. It certainly feels that with the last scene, as preceded by his sacrifice (a long take featuring Andrei's fulfillment of Domenico's mission), connotes a satisfaction for his craving to be home, despite being in another land.


jayclops said...

wow. two tarkovskys in a row. i actually saw a clip of nostalghia on youtube. the one where the character walks back and forth among the ruins with a candle. i haven't seen this (as well as mirror) but that boring scene feels so much of the contemplative mood that tarkovsky stamps with his films. dun sa solaris, medyo nalito ako sa ending. i really don't know what to make of it. it appeals to me like its both literal and figurative.

Oggs Cruz said...

The scene you saw in youtube is the scene wherein Andrei fulfills his promise to Domenico. Defenitely, outside the context of the feature, it's boring but within the film, it's explicably tragic --- almost breathlessly painful (much like Joel Torre's prolonged death scene in Lav Diaz's Evolution of the Filipino Family).

Solaris' ending also confounded me; but it's resolutory in a spiritual and philosophical level. That's harder to achieve.

Anonymous said...

I saw Nostalghia when it first came out in 1983. As I struggled through the 'candle' scene, I thought to my self, 'This is the most boring film I've ever seen in my life' and regretted the waste of an evening. But all weekend, images from the film kept flitting back into my mind, and I strangely felt compelled to go and see the film again on the following Monday. This time I was completely captivated, and decided it was the best film I had ever seen; that it was speaking a language I had never heard before in the cinema. To this day, it is my favourite film. The 'candle' scene is the work of a completely fearless director. www.david.walsh.name.

Anonymous said...

When will I get to read a review on any Tarkovsky film where reviewer has actually understood Tarkovsky films? And when will such a review will not explicitly explain just the technicalities of the film and instead dive into the metaphorical aspects that many people who so pompously praise Tarkovsky and yet fail to understand his ideas?
The day I'll find such a skillfully keen observer, I'll immediately befriend that person. Because that person would not be just an intelligent critic, that person would be honest too.
In simpler words I have extremely rarely found anyone who truly understands Tarkovsky's films.

ianne said...

^maybe because this is just a review, and a review is different from a critical paper, and even if one would try doing the latter, s/he might end up writing a book, because analyzing a single film is very complicated, let alone writing about the style of a film maker, Tarkovsky in this case.

Anonymous said...

oggs, i think you were referring to Pen Medina's character's prolonged death in Ebolusyon...