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The Mirror
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The Mirror

The Mirror (1975) forgoes a conventional narrative structure, instead weaving together loosely autobiographical reminiscences, dreams and newsreel footage to suggest how the past is reflected in the present, both on a personal and on a larger historical level. Alexei, the unseen protagonist, has strained relations with his mother and his ex-wife; both of whom bear a strong resemblance to each other. He is also haunted by memories of his idyllic childhood in the country, his absent father (whose divorce surely parallels Alexei's own), the terrors of the Stalin regime, and the hardships caused by the evacuation of Moscow during World War II. Additionally, the film evokes collective memories of the era via newsreel footage and, on a deeper level, explores what it means to be Russian.

The Mirror dates back to 1968 when director Andrei Tarkovsky and screenwriter Alexander Misharin began work on an autobiographical film. The title of the project was originally A Bright, Bright Day; it comes from a verse by Arseniy Tarkovsky, the director's father and a noted poet who reads his own works on the film's soundtrack. The title was later changed to Confession, then to Why Do You Stand So Far Off? and finally to The Mirror. At one point, the film was going to include hidden-camera interviews with Tarkovsky's mother, but the director eventually dropped the idea. Work on the film was delayed when Tarkovsky agreed to direct Solaris (1972); in 1973 he and Misharin returned to the project and developed it in earnest. In his diaries (published in English under the title Time Within Time) he mentions Bibi Andersson as a possible candidate for the role of the mother--he admired her work with Ingmar Bergman and had recently met her while doing preparations for Solaris. However, the prospect of battling with the Soviet film bureaucracy to hire a foreign actor made him change his mind. In retrospect, Margarita Terekhova seems the perfect choice for the dual role of the protagonist's wife and his mother as a young woman. Vadim Yusov, Tarkovsky's collaborator on all his previous films, was supposed to serve as the cinematographer; however, due to creative and personal differences he withdrew from the project and Georgi Rerberg took his place instead.

Part of the emotional impact of the film no doubt comes from its precise and vivid evocation of the director's own childhood. The dacha (country house) seen in the film was reconstructed on the basis of childhood recollections and surviving photographs. Tarkovsky even ordered a field of buckwheat planted on the location to return the place to its former appearance. He also had the mother's costumes made to match photographs of his own mother. As a further personal touch, his real-life mother Maria appears as the mother in old age, his wife Larissa appears as the doctor's wife to whom the mother sells an earring, and his stepdaughter appears as the red-headed girl with whom the narrator falls in love as a young boy.

The broader historical dimension of the film is suggested by the scene in which Ignat, Alexei's son, reads an excerpt from Pushkin's famous 1836 letter to Chaadaev regarding the role of the Russian people in history. Tarkovsky brilliantly integrates newsreel footage from the Spanish Civil War, the China-USSR border conflicts of the late sixties and from World War II, the defining event in Soviet and modern Russian history. The latter includes moving footage of Soviet troops trudging through the shallow waters of Lake Sivash, as part of the difficult and costly campaign to retake Ukraine and southern Russia from the Germans in 1943. According to Tarkovsky, the cameraman who shot this footage was later killed.

Assembling the film, with its complex interweaving of different time frames, proved to be a frustrating task. Tarkovsky and his editor rearranged the episodes some twenty times before finding a satisfactory version. The finished film was widely criticized for being too "elite" and private for what was supposed to be a "mass" art form. Tarkovsky challenged claims that the film was "difficult" and liked to quote from letters by ordinary viewers who saw their own lives reflected in the film. It was given a lower category distribution by Goskino, the state distribution agency; in Moscow, it initially opened in only two theaters, with no publicity. However, today it is regarded as one of the director's finest works.

Director/Producer: Andrei Tarkovsky
Production Supervisor: Erik Waisberg
Screenplay: Andrei Tarkovsky, Alexander Misharin
Cinematography: Georgi Rerberg
Editing: Lyuba Fejginova
Music: Eduard Artemyev with pieces by J. S. Bach, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Henry Purcell
Set Design: Nikolai Dvigubsky
Costume Design: Yelena Fomina (as Nina Fomina)
Principal Cast: Margarita Terekhova (Maria, Alexei's mother, Natalya, Alexei's wife), Filipp Yankovsky (Alexei, age 5), Ignat Daniltsev (Alexei/Ignat, age 12), Oleg Yankovsky (Alexei's father), Nikolai Grinko (Maria's colleague at printing house), Alla Demidova (Liza), Yuri Nazarov (military instructor), Anatoli Solonitsyn (passer-by doctor), Innokenty Smoktunovsky (voice of Alexei, the narrator), Larisa Tarkovskaya (mother in country house), Maria Tarkovskaya (Alexei's mother as an elderly woman).
C-107m.

by James Steffen

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