Mirror (1979): One of Tarkovsky’s Best Films

Unlike his contemporary Soviet directors, Andrei Tarkovsky had demonstrated in his work a personal, original vision that placed him alongside Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, and Federico Fellini as one of the major European filmmakers of our times.

Three years after making his sci-fi meditation Solaris, Tarkovsky directed Mirror, a film that’s more autobiographical than any he had made before or since. “It is the story of my mother and thus part of my own life,” he said at the time. “The film contains only genuine incidents. It’s a confession.”

A ravishingly sensual odyssey through the halls of time and memory, Tarkovsky’s sublime reflection on 20th century Russian history is as much a film as it is a poem composed in images, as much a work of cinema as it is a metaphysical  hallucination.
The narrative is a richly textured collage of varying film stocks and newsreel footage, in which the recollections of a dying poet flash before our eyes.  Dreams mingling with scenes of childhood, wartime, and marriage, all imbued with the mystic power of a trance.
Largely dismissed by Soviet critics upon its release due to its elusive narrative structure, Mirror has since taken its place as one of the titan director’s most renowned and influential works, a stunning personal statement from an artist transmitting his innermost thoughts and feelings directly from psyche to screen.
Tarkovsky’s parents separated in 1935, when he was three-year-old. “Mirror” can be seen as his way of the director’s exorcising repressed feelings from his childhood. His father, Arseni, was a well-known poet of the period.
Voice-over readings of his father’s poems and unusually subjective associations lead through powerful, lyrical images.
Unfortunately, the Soviet authorities disapproved of “Mirror” and its domestic release was restricted. Soviet audiences were surprised to see a film with an open-ended, ambiguous narrative and innovative, unorthodox visual style that was considered revolutionary by standards of their national cinema.
“Mirror” was better received in the Western world, where there was a more established tradition of self-reflexive, autobiographical cinema. Several film critics pointed out the influence of Ingmar Bergman, Fellini, and Alain Resnais with their grave, introspective themes on Tarkovsky’s work in general and “The Mirror” in particular.
Short Bio
Andrei Tarkovsky was born in Moscow on April 4, 1932. In his own words, “During my high school period I attended the School of Music, and I did some painting. In 1952, I enrolled in the Institute of Oriental Languages, where I studied Arabic. All this wasn’t for me.” He left school to join a geological research group on an expedition to Siberia, where he remained for nearly a year and produced a whole series of drawings and sketches. Then, in 1956, he entered the State Institute for Cinema (VGIK), to study under Mikhail Romm.
Critical Status:
Tarkovsky’s seven features have each won prizes at international festivals, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Fest, the Grand Prize at San Francisco, and at the Cannes Fest, the Special Jury Prize (twice) and the Grand Prize for Creative Cinema.