"Великие вещи конца. Маленькие вещи терпеть."
In his first film outside Soviet Russia, Andrei Tarkovsky taps into the isolation he feels separated from his homeland in the appropriately titled Nostalghia. The similarly-named Andrei (Oleg Yankovsky) wanders through Italy researching the life of a suicidal artist. His interpreter Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) becomes smitten with the reclusive man and he becomes intrigued by Domenico (Erland Josephson), the possibly insane prophet.
Nostalghia is returning to similar territory as The Mirror, but in a different form and from an older man's perspective. The Mirror had some turmoil to its images at times—as if the memories were in a state of flux and may turn out differently the second or third time around—which indicated a mind trying to sort through a life and make peace out of disparate moments. Nostalghia, as the title suggests, is less about making sense of a life, and more about mourning what has passed. The film isn't particularly sad, but there is a sadness accepted in the way it views the past as something that is ever-present in one's own mind.
I love the way memories and dreams slip into the man's reality here (also named Andrei this time around, and again drawing from Tarkovsky's father's poems), especially that early scene where he passes out on his bed and the light increases to show him laying next to (presumably) his wife from back home in Russia. He gets up and the camera stays on her in a profile shot, revealing that she's pregnant, pulling back slightly so we can see that she's laying on the bed in the room the man went to sleep in, before the light finally fades back out and the man wakes up alone again. It's a great move that makes literal the presence of memories, and it primes us for later shots where the man looks off-screen to see his homeland with his family and house in the distance, or some shots late in the film where he seems to be walking through an actual remembered place.
Nostalghia bears further viewings, though really that could be said of all of Tarkovsky's features so far. The ending scenes are beautiful in his familiar haunting way, and I think they may help contextualize a lot of what we're seeing a bit differently on a second watch through. Most of the rest of what I have to say here pertains to The Question, so what did you think?Anytime I'm set to write my thoughts for a film I avoid anyone else's words until I'm able to form my thoughts. I received your initial thoughts before I was able to watch Nostalghia and, while I did not sit and read them until just now, I was struck by how little you seemed to have to say about Nostalghia. Now that the film is complete and I'm back at the keyboard I understand the slight position you seem to hold. Nostalghia is not a bad film, any movie would be so lucky as to have the final twenty minutes this does, but compared to Tarkovsky's other films it feels like an isolated retread of his earlier films.
The isolation makes perfect sense considering this is Tarkovsky's first film outside Soviet Russia. Like Bergman's first film outside of Sweden, The Serpent's Egg, it feels like it has all the ingredients from the master but they don't bake at the right temperature. A lot of the shots started to feel repetitive after too long. I loved the way that Tarkovsky pokes at his stand-ins isolation by constantly revealing other figures standing around him, or in one charming reveal as an audience of one materializes for Andrei's soliloquy, but the action was moving on the same flat horizontal plane. His films usually move effortlessly through multiple blocks of time but I was constantly aware of the forward and reverse motion this time, either through the dolly movements or color manipulation.
I add this with the caveat that Nostalghia is still a master class in beautiful composition - but it felt broad for Tarkovsky. Each change in technique or camera direction signaled the change in perspective before the rest of the film caught up. So instead of feeling swept away by the subjective nature of cinema, I was anticipating and correctly positioned for the temporal and fantastical changes of each scene. There are some notable exceptions, such as the stunning shot where the encroaching mud and grass into a building becomes a sprawling mountain vista, and that glorious final sequence of Andrei with the candle. But I was too aware of the construction this time, no matter how brilliant it is.
I already mentioned The Mirror, but it seems like Nostalghia is a logical convergence point for a lot of the common motifs and themes we've seen from Tarkovsky so far. What else did you see creeping in from previous films?
In addition to the role of memory, Nostalghia has some echoes of Stalker and Andrei Rublev. On a more basic level, the visual strategy jumps back to some of Stalker's more muted color tones (here indicating the past), as well as images of decay primarily focusing on old, broken down structures. Tarkovsky has a way of making everything look cold and wet, and there were a few scenes here where the main character is literally wading around the ruins of flooded buildings, scenes that wouldn't have been out of place in The Zone.
Tarkovsky also views faith—here represented by Domenico—as something terrifying in its power. Here, as in Stalker and Andrei Rublev, faith is something that could save or destroy, and those embracing it are always at a precarious balancing point. The ending provides an interesting contrast between Domenico—consumed by his own faith and disheartened to the point of self-immolation—and Gorchakov, who seems at peace. I want to say that these are two different sides of the same coin to Tarkovsky, which makes the tranquility and sadness of the final shot even more interesting.I started reading Tarkovsky's book on film theory, Sculpting in Time, last week. I'm just about half-way through, but his insights on music, editing, and mise-en-scène are alternately unsurprising and somewhat radical. The unsurprising part comes from the way that he views time in film, and both good and bad examples of that construction are in Nostalghia. When the earlier travels are going from place to place and signaling their transitions in their color tone and direction (left for backward, right for forward) they are examples of the kind of film construction he rails against in his writing.
Tarkovsky typically eschew's standard notions of montage in his film because he doesn't like the addition involved. In traditional montage you have one shot, juxtapose it with another, and arrive and an unseen third meaning. While I don't have the same disdain for it he does, barely any of his shots fit into this kind of rhythm. His philosophy evolved into removing the addition part, and just trying to figure out ways to signal the third. I've already mentioned where that doesn't work in Nostalghia, but the astonishing final shot of Andrei's Russian home in the crumbling Italian cathedral says everything Tarkovsky wants to about his feelings of isolation in one image.
There is none of the obvious technique of those earlier moments. Instead we're presented with the unblinking image of a man on the precipice of death who finds his home in the midst of a weathered but still strong populace. There's no cut, just one continuous image. Stalker is potentially the ruler of this style as it creates alien realms and distortions of time without any of the special effects we're used to. This is the past that affects the present of Nostalghia in the best way. In that sense Ivan's Childhood, with its occasional blunter imagery like Ivan appearing at the center of a bombed-out home, is its less effective predecessor to Nostalghia. The images are still so strong that any director would be supremely talented to capture the moments as Tarkovsky does, but the blunt reminders of Andrei's past surface in the constant reveals and mist that obscures the people around him. Nostalghia is still a step in a different direction for Tarkovsky, but I wish that more of the free-association of The Mirror was still with him.