The Sacrifice-attachment0

The Sacrifice

Movie Information

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present The Sacrifice at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 3, at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
Score:

Genre: Mystical Drama
Director: Andrey Tarkovsky
Starring: Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood, Allan Edwall, Guðrún S. Gísladóttir, Sven Wollter
Rated: NR

Andrey Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice (1986), finds the filmmaker in exile in Ingmar Bergman country: making a film with one of Bergman’s actors, Erland Josephson; his cinematographer, Sven Nykvist; and more-than-a-little feel of a Bergman movie. Even so, the final result is clearly a Tarkovsky film, no matter the influence. And, yes, it’s at least close to being a great film. It’s a film that lingers in the mind—not in the least because it’s so open to interpretation. But having said that, I’ll also say that I did not find watching it a pleasant experience, nor am I all that certain I like having it linger in my mind. Both are reactions that might have pleased Tarkovsky, and both are quite possibly exactly what you might expect when you blend Russian gloom with Swedish gloom. The film made me uneasy almost at once, though that may be partly due to the fact that I knew I was watching a movie made by a man who knew he was dying. The story—if it can be called that—is about a birthday gathering for a reclusive intellectual (Josephson). There’s an air of something not quite right about everything, which turns out to be true at the moment when jet planes fly low over the isolated house, causing a pitcher of milk to crash to the floor. This is the moment where the film starts being very open to interpretation. Suddenly, the color is drained from the film and we find the characters poised for nuclear annihilation from impending WWIII. The actions become stranger, the events darker, the sense of reality more and more elusive—and the question arises as to whether any of this is actually happening. The film never answers this, nor does the last section where things appear to have returned to normal (and to more saturated color). For that matter, these last scenes are just as unsettling as those that precede it—something not dispelled by Tarkovsky’s hopeful dedication at the very end. It may well be a masterpiece, but it’s not one I’d care to look at too often. As one character notes of the unfinished DaVinci seen in the film, there’s something sinister about it.

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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."

4 thoughts on “The Sacrifice

  1. Sean R. Moorhead

    Mr. Hanke, I’m pleased to hear that you’ve finally seen this one, since I asked about your opinion of it in the comments for your review of The Mirror.

    I have mixed but generally positive feelings toward The Sacrifice (and such feelings are generally a good indication to me that I need to see a film again), and yet I must say that I don’t regard it as overbearingly grim. Its plot is, of course, very gloomy, but the characters also philosophize more coherently than the characters in most Tarkovsky films, which for me serves as a counterbalance to the very remote, impersonal cinematography.

    I did, however, feel more distant from The Sacrifice than from any of Tarkovsky’s other films, which may have to do with the physical distance between the camera and the characters.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Mr. Hanke, I’m pleased to hear that you’ve finally seen this one

    Well, I’m pleased to hear from you, since we don’t see you very often these days.

    I must say that I don’t regard it as overbearingly grim

    Oh, I’ve certainly seen grimmer films — and with considerably less point — but something about it made me uncomfortable, and from fairly early on in the movie. That made it, on balance, an experience I’m not anxious to repeat, though a subsequent viewing might not have the same impact because I’ve come to suspect I was waiting for things to happen that didn’t. On another viewing I’d know.

  3. Sean R. Moorhead

    Well, IТm pleased to hear from you, since we donТt see you very often these days.

    I’ve been busy administrating a forum, but I continue to read your reviews religiously.

    but something about it made me uncomfortable, and from fairly early on in the movie.

    Well, as you said, it’s hard not to be constantly aware of Tarkovsky’s impending death while watching the film — just as it’s hard not to think of the murder of Sharon Tate while watching Polanski’s Macbeth.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I’ve been busy administrating a forum, but I continue to read your reviews religiously.

    Well, I’ll let it pass…for now.

    Well, as you said, it’s hard not to be constantly aware of Tarkovsky’s impending death while watching the film — just as it’s hard not to think of the murder of Sharon Tate while watching Polanski’s Macbeth.

    Or to listen to George Harrison’s Brainwashed album, if it comes to that. But I think there’s something about the film itself … the sense that something worse than what actually happens is always just about to happen.

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