Andrei Tarkovsky — ‘Mirror’

‘Mir­ror’ is a beau­ti­ful, impen­e­tra­ble film. Direc­tor Andrei Tarkovsky crafts a nar­ra­tive that takes you between past, present, and future, dream­like, as mem­o­ry often feels. The sto­ry is a messy scrap­book of mem­o­ries, some near­ly past­ed atop one anoth­er, pro­duc­ing a col­lage of frag­ment­ed emo­tions. But to speak only of the sto­ry would over­look Tarkovsky’s accom­plish­ment as a director.

Ryland Walk­er Knight writes for Reverse Shot,

Mir­ror’s edit­ing per­forms an odd alche­my of mem­o­ry that pro­lif­er­ates iden­ti­ties as much as con­verges them. Like in a prism, or kalei­do­scope, mir­rors are every­where in the film (adorn­ing walls or reg­is­ter­ing in win­dows) for­ev­er mul­ti­ply­ing real­i­ties and planes, for­ev­er fur­ther­ing the refrac­tive inward reflec­tion, or meditation.

Tarkovsky focus­es not only on repeat­ed mis­takes in per­son­al life, but also in polit­i­cal life, high­light­ing con­flicts in Spain, Rus­sia, and Chi­na as the film pro­gress­es. There’s some­thing bit­ter­sweet about them, as though we’re trapped in a cycle of mis­takes that we’re doomed to repeat even when those mem­o­ries are still fresh in our minds.

If there’s one short­com­ing about ‘Mir­ror,’ it’s that Kino released it. Kino is often praised for exhum­ing and restor­ing obscure titles, which isn’t an inex­pen­sive thing to do. But they oper­ate as though no oth­er com­pa­ny is doing that work. For a com­plex film like ‘Mir­ror,’ it might help to have some­thing more than just the film itself. I’d be will­ing to over­look that if they paid more atten­tion to their trans­la­tions. There are moments in ‘Mir­ror’ where the view­er has to treat it like silent film while an entire exchange is omit­ted from the tran­script. Tarkovsky’s visu­al style makes up for some of those short­com­ings, but you can’t help but feel that some mean­ing has been lost.

Some Thoughts on Synecdoche, New York

One of the rare plea­sures I had as a video store clerk was being able to enjoy how cus­tomers respond­ed to Char­lie Kauf­man’s work. One such cus­tomer was even eager to check out Don­ald’s stuff after watch­ing Adap­ta­tion! For me, Kauf­man’s scripts were love let­ters to out­siders of all shapes and sizes, for whom the pur­suit of a “nor­mal” life presents a tremen­dous chal­lenge. Yet even when some degree of nor­mal­i­ty is obtained or accep­tance achieved, his pro­tag­o­nists remain just out of step with their peers.

Caden Cotard, the man at the cen­ter of Synec­doche, New York, is no excep­tion. I spent some time read­ing Film­brain’s excel­lent two-part review (part 1, part 2), but felt that Char­lie Kauf­man’s motifs remain the same. In Synec­doche, he con­tin­ues to play with time and space, leav­ing it up to Cotard to rec­on­cile his place with­in them, while strug­gling with infir­mi­ty and inse­cu­ri­ty. Synec­doche, New York finds Kauf­man address­ing the cre­ative process in a way he has­n’t since Char­lie drove him­self to dis­trac­tion in Adap­ta­tion.

It’s hard to say very much about Synec­doche, New York. I was com­plete­ly mes­mer­ized by the sto­ry and the per­for­mances, with­out much more than a pass­ing thought for where the plot might lead. I found it spell­bind­ing. I was com­plete­ly engrossed in the char­ac­ters and what they might do next. Does that make me one of Armond White’s “fash­ion sheep?” Maybe. Do I care? No.

Why? Because part of the joy in see­ing movies made by writ­ers and direc­tors like Kauf­man, Gondry, Ander­son, Reichardt, and oth­ers is that they feel like our movies. Their actors feel like our actors.To me, this cin­e­ma is Gen­er­a­tion X com­ing to grips with a world it has­n’t shaped in any mean­ing­ful way, reflect­ed in Cotard walling him­self off from the war-torn real­i­ty that exists out­side his “the­ater of the real.” There’s an over­whelm­ing sense of inad­e­qua­cy and impo­tence that per­me­ates the movie, and those are two sen­ti­ments that could be applied to Gen­er­a­tion X if you ask me.

This is the sort of movie I’ll come back to again and again. It’s the sort of movie I’d love to see released in a spe­cial edi­tion three-disc set, com­plete with notes and inter­views and doc­u­men­tary footage. There’s no chance that it’ll receive such lav­ish atten­tion when it comes out on DVD, but one can dream.

Ignored Netflix Movies Fight Back

I real­ly need to fin­ish watch­ing Bertoluc­ci’s La Com­mare Sec­ca already. It’s good, trust me! There’s just nev­er enough time to watch it! For­tu­nate­ly, Helen holds up her end of the Net­flix sub­scrip­tion by devour­ing TV on DVD. She just fin­ished the final sea­son of Homi­cide. I think that’s sev­en full sea­sons! I salute her ded­i­ca­tion and insom­nia. I sim­ply can’t com­mit to that sort of late night view­ing, nor am I will­ing to sub­mit Helen to tor­tur­ous for­eign lan­guage films for hours at a time.

In oth­er seri­ous movie news, I’m head­ed down to Ritz at the Bourse to watch Godard­’s Vivre sa Vie on Thurs­day night. It’s not much, but I’ll take what­ev­er reper­to­ry crumbs Philly man­ages to get.

Burn! and The Hour of the Furnaces

I may be up to my neck in work, run­ning, and the Phillies right now, but I’m real­ly excit­ed to check out The Hour of the Fur­naces tonight at Inter­na­tion­al House. The last movie I saw out there was Chris Mark­er’s amaz­ing 240 minute doc­u­men­tary, The Grin With­out a Cat. The Hour of the Fur­naces is a 260 minute epic released in 1968 that cov­ers left­ist strug­gle in South Amer­i­ca. If you’re curi­ous you should check out this essay about the movie over at Sens­es of Cin­e­ma. I’m hop­ing to be real­ly thrilled by tonight’s screen­ing of The Hour of the Fur­naces. It sounds like I won’t be disappointed.

I watched Gillo Pon­tecor­vo’s Burn! as a warm-up, no pun intend­ed. I’ve been mean­ing to see it since it was released on DVD some years ago, but sim­ply had­n’t got­ten around to it until last week when I final­ly mailed Cal­i­for­nia Split back to Net­flix after hav­ing it for over a month.

Burn! may not be as amaz­ing as Pon­tecor­vo’s Bat­tle of Algiers, but it’s a pret­ty effec­tive state­ment about busi­ness inter­ests superced­ing all oth­ers, star­ring Mar­lon Bran­do. Most inter­est­ing, Bran­do does­n’t Sean Penn it up and draw so much atten­tion to his char­ac­ter that it drowns out the mean­ing of the film. Pon­tecor­vo does­n’t beat you over the head with mes­sage either. The sto­ry, if you’re will­ing to hear it, explains itself: sug­ar cane more or less cursed the Antilles in the colo­nial era. Thanks free trade!

(As a quick aside, did you notice that Greenspan almost recant­ed his Ran­di­an beliefs in tes­ti­mo­ny yes­ter­day? It’s amazing!)

One of the rea­sons I had­n’t seen it soon­er, despite hav­ing an inter­est in the top­ic, was the pack­ag­ing and pro­duc­tion of the DVD, as DVD Savant wrote at the time of its re-release near­ly three years ago. Movies like this can either be lav­ish pro­duc­tions direct­ed almost exclu­sive­ly at the snooty movie mar­ket, or they end up cheap­ies in the cut-out bin. This def­i­nite­ly leans more toward the lat­ter, as the print and pack­ag­ing are a lit­tle lack­ing and the extras are nonexistent.

Stuff like this is a dis­ap­point­ment to those of us who wait patient­ly for left­field clas­sics to be reis­sued on DVD, only to find no rea­son to actu­al­ly buy the prod­uct. Film buffs will spend mon­ey for a good prod­uct. It pays to cater to them! As DVD sales decline and stu­dios waste mon­ey bulk­ing up their Blu-Ray library, it might be a good idea to talk to experts about the clas­sics that are just lay­ing around. If the music indus­try is reis­su­ing albums that came out six months ago, would it be impos­si­ble to lav­ish some atten­tion on movies that the stu­dios already own but are just col­lect­ing dust?