The Mirror

Movie Information

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present The Mirror at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
Score:
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Genre: Autobiographical Drama
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Margarita Terekhova, Oleg Yankovsky, Ignat Daniltsev, Bikolai Grinko, Larisa Tarkovvskya
Rated: NR

Those who believe that Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life ushered in an entirely new type of film this summer should tackle Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975)—a far more difficult film that also functions as a kind of autobiography that concerns itself with a time and a place. There’s really nothing about the film that can be called a plot. In essence, The Mirror is a series of seemingly unconnected, yet strangely connected memories. As memories, they’re a mixture of the crystal clear and the vaguely outlined. These memories seem to fold in on themselves in a flood—albeit a rather slow flood, since this is Tarkovsky—to a point that order is meaningless. All these times have become one. Similarly, characters change and morph within the space of a scene. It is a film that is difficult to adequately describe—and one I believe is impossible to process in one sitting. I also suspect that it may be a film that will never be wholly comprehensible to a non-Russian—possibly even to a Russian who never experienced the time periods depicted in the film. Some may find it a wholly frustrating experience. In which case, the best approach is probably just to immerse one’s self in the incredible imagery that transmutes even the mundane into something that feels fresh and new.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

8 thoughts on “The Mirror

  1. Sean R. Moorhead

    …the incredible imagery that transmutes even the mundane into something that feels fresh and new.

    This is an incredibly apt description of Tarkovsky’s technique, and one that I think the great man himself would appreciate. Certainly it seems consistent with the creative philosophy Tarkovsky expresses through the madman in Nostalghia, who gives a speech about listening to “small voices” in nature as an act of faith.

    Tarkovsky moves me in a way I really can’t explain purely in terms of his cinematographic technique. If you’ll forgive the pretension, I’m almost tempted to compare it to Joyce’s epicleti.

    Out of curiosity, since you’re an authority on Bergman, what do you think of The Sacrifice?

  2. Ken Hanke

    Where on earth did you get the idea that I’m an authority on Bergman? And I’ve not seen The Sacrifice.

    The interesting thing to me is that in the area under discussion Tarkovsky has much in common with Ken Russell — a pairing almost no one woud make.

  3. Sean R. Moorhead

    Where on earth did you get the idea that I’m an authority on Bergman?

    Well, you seem very knowledgeable about his films. Anyways, I regard you as an authority on basically all film.

    The reason I ask is that The Sacrifice was was made near Fårö, where so many of Bergman’s films are set, and was photographed by Sven Nykvist, Bergman’s favorite cinematographer. It’s a fascinating (if not always entirely organic) synthesis of the two directors’ styles.

    The interesting thing to me is that in the area under discussion Tarkovsky has much in common with Ken Russell — a pairing almost no one woud make.

    Do you know whether either director admired the other’s work? I know Tarkovsky was one of the many directors who was attached Altered States at some point or other.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Well, you seem very knowledgeable about his films.

    I have a solid, but by no means encyclopedic knowledge of his films.

    Anyways, I regard you as an authority on basically all film.

    On a relative basis, maybe so, but there are definitely gaps. And there are all sorts of things I’m supposed to like that I don’t and all sorts of things I’m not supposed to like and do.

    Do you know whether either director admired the other’s work?

    I know Ken likes Andrei Rublev. I don’t know anything else on the subject, though. Ken is probably the anti-name-dropper, though. I’m constantly surprised by who it turns out he knows or knew and who knows or knew him.

    I know Tarkovsky was one of the many directors who was attached Altered States at some point or other.

    The list of who wasn’t may be shorter.

  5. Sean R. Moorhead

    On a relative basis, maybe so, but there are definitely gaps.

    Well, true experts are in the best position to recognize their deficiencies — and, at the risk of sounding condescending, I’ve noticed that people who identify themselves as “movie buffs” are often too ignorant to realize just how limited their knowledge is.

    And there are all sorts of things I’m supposed to like that I don’t and all sorts of things I’m not supposed to like and do.

    I’ve found that this holds true for me within a director’s oeuvre as well as more generally. I know most people regard The Fearless Vampire Killers as one of Polanski’s weakest films, but it’s one of my favorites. And, while we’re on the subject of Tarkovsky, Solaris has never worked for me.

    I know Ken likes Andrei Rublev.

    That’s really thrilling to hear. It’s one of my five favorites of all time, but it doesn’t get enough recognition.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Well, true experts are in the best position to recognize their deficiencies—and, at the risk of sounding condescending, I’ve noticed that people who identify themselves as “movie buffs” are often too ignorant to realize just how limited their knowledge is.

    Realistically, there’s over 100 years of movies and no one knows everything. I’d call myself — with some reluctance — pretty expert on the 1927-1935 era, the 1964-1975 era, and (not entirely by plan) 2000-now. And more specifically on directors F.W. Murnau, Frank Borzage, Charles Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, Josef von Sternberg, James Whale, Leo McCarey, Alfred Hitchcock, King Vidor, Howard Hawks, Mervyn LeRoy, Michael Curtiz, Tod Browning, Busby Berkeley, Lewis Milestone, George Cukor, Mitchell Leisen, Preston Sturges — and quite a few “lesser” filmmakers from the “classic” era like A. Edward Sutherland, John Cromwell, Lloyd Bacon, Edmund Goulding, Clarence Brown, Frank Tuttle, Erle C. Kenton, etc. And certain stars — The Marx Bros., W.C. Fields, Mae West, Laurel and Hardy, Wheeler and Woolsey, George Arliss, Bela Lugosi, John Barrymore. I guess I’m also expert on Charlie Chan, and I don’t think there’s a classic horror film I don’t know well. In more modern terms — Richard Lester, Ken Russell, John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Michael Winner, Nicolas Roeg, Lindsay Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Pedro Almodovar, Tim Burton, the Coens, Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry, Guillermo del Toro, Rian Johnson. And a working knowledge of quite a few more. What that adds up to, I don’t know. And I haven’t seen everything by any of them (maybe Polanski and Burton).

    I know most people regard The Fearless Vampire Killers as one of Polanski’s weakest films, but it’s one of my favorites.

    It’s one of mine, too, and of most people I know. One of my least favorite is Rosemary’s Baby.

    And, while we’re on the subject of Tarkovsky, Solaris has never worked for me.

    That kept me away from Tarkovsky for years.

  7. Sean R. Moorhead

    What that adds up to, I don’t know.

    A fairly impressive body of knowledge, I’d say.

    One of my least favorite is Rosemary’s Baby.

    I’m afraid I can’t agree on that point, but I will say that I prefer The Tenant.

    [b]That kept me away from Tarkovsky for years.[/b]

    Apparently it was Tarkovsky’s least favorite of his own films.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I’m afraid I can’t agree on that point, but I will say that I prefer The Tenant.

    I didn’t expect you to agree. I actually dislike Rosemary’s Baby, which makes it unique in the filmography, since the other Polanskis I don’t much care for — like Frantic — are simply negligible to me. Someone once told me it was showing the banality of evil. Maybe, but that doesn’t make banality any more entertaining. The Tenant, on the other hand, is, I believe, possibly his best film.

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