‘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.
Mirrorâ€™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.
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.
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.
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!
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?