Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Sacrifice (1986)

By Eric Jessen 7/21/09

This film begins in the wet grassy fields along the foggy island beaches of Gotland, Ingmar Bergman's famous work place. We watch from a distance an old man, Alexander, played by the great Erland Josephson, and a small mute boy (director Tarkovsky's son), plant a tree. Alexander laments, ponders, lets out his innermost thoughts and philosophies, uncertain if the little boy is listening. They stroll through the meadow, Alexander leans against a tree, saying man is not a savage because “savages are more spiritual,” then along comes the post man, Otto (Allan Edwall) on his bicycle. Not soon after, the rest of Alexander's family joins him by the tree. They all go back to his house.
Alexander lives alone, he is a poet, writer, artist and his family is visiting because today is his birthday. There are smiles and laughter, conversations, arguments and awkwardness. In every frame Tarkovsky attempts to assemble a painting. Through this beginning The Sacrifice seems a more reserved, toned down version of Tarkovsky (for better or for worse, I'm not sure). But suddenly the house is rocked by loud, banging noises, a jar of milk falls from a shelf. A jet had just flown over. It turns out, they are in the midst of war. The rest of the film is more like the Tarkovsky from The Mirror, Solaris.... There are strange unexplainable images, confusion, the miniature house from Solaris and the fire from The Mirror.
Wathing a film by Andrie Tarkovsky is like dreaming. One second can feel like an eternity. Your heart beat, blood pressure, entire metabolism slows down. Awaken, and you feel dizzy. It is difficult to remember or understand what you have seen. The memory of the dream and the movie is a blur.
As the credits start to trickle down, I can't help but sit still, staring at the screen, absorbing the moment, the feeling. It's hard not to think that it is important, that you may never feel the same again. It's hypnotic, bizarre, and haunting. The people appear to glide or float, moving slowly without urgency, wafting through the air like ghosts. They are sullen, longing for change, but hopeless: groaning and wailing, sloshing in a puddle of sorrow and self-pity. They talk and talk and talk, rambling on about art, love and death. The atmosphere is murcky, cloudy and dim. The colors are a muddle of browns and grays. Tarkovsky is a unique profound experience in film.
During the filming of The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky was dying of cancer. The early passages of the film reflect his desperation for a calm, retrospective film. The end, reverting to his normal style, may reflect his exhaustion. Tarkovsky died shortly after the film was finished.

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