Mirror (1975)

“It seems to make me return to the place, poignantly dear to my heart, where my grandfather’s house used to be in which I was born 40 years ago right on the dinner table. Each time I try to enter it, something prevents me from doing that. I see this dream again and again. And when I see those walls made of logs and the dark entrance, even in my dream I become aware that I’m only dreaming it. And the overwhelming joy is clouded by anticipation of awakening. At times something happens and I stop dreaming of the house and the pine trees of my childhood around it. Then I get depressed. And I can’t wait to see this dream in which I’ll be a child again and feel happy again because everything will still be ahead, everything will be possible…”

‘Mirror’, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1975, is a typically opaque semi-autobiographical movie that explores the life of a man in Russia before, during and after the Second World War. It’s told in a non-linear way, the narrative jumping between time periods, it combines different types of footage and switches between colour, black and white and sepia. The plot is really the least important thing about the film, it seems to instead be wanting to focus on textures of the past, on the nature of history and the blurring that happens between dreams and memory. The incidents that are presented in the film are fragmentary and seem to not build towards a theme or subtext, but instead they cumulatively create this sense of ‘pastness’ that draws the viewer into Tarkovsky’s meditations and preoccupations. In this sense it is amazingly successful and the result is a rich and sophisticated cinematic biopic that goes beyond simply turning a life into a story but stead recreates that life as we would experience it. What ‘Mirror’ does, using a mixture of innovative and unusual techniques, is to offer the viewer the chance to ‘remember’ Tarkovsky’s own life along with him. The visual control Tarkovsky has over each individual shot is incredible, as with his other films he is pre-occupied with the primal elements of fire and water, often together in the frame. The performances are subdued and subtle allowing the events to flow past them and allowing the film to instead create emotions through atmosphere rather than spoon-feeding the viewer with stylised acting. It’s not easy to watch and I found, as with all of Tarkovsky’s films, it required a degree of ‘tuning in’ to get anything out of it, but when that happens you are left with a feeling of having experienced a movie more than having just watched it.

Would I recommend it? Yes – in a double bill with ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ perhaps. Or even ‘Andrei Rublev’ for another unusual biopic.

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