Refractions of light and darkness in the infinite mirror of life are the essence that animates this immortal movie by Andrei Tarkovsky from 1975.
It boldly transcends the boundaries of traditional cinema, offering a cinematic experience blending poetic imagery and psychological introspection.
Emerging from the depths of the past, a dense web of memories unfolds from Aleksey, a poet torn apart by illness, who stands across a torrent of childhood mementos into the truth of maturity.
The mother, Maria, an embodiment of love haunted by the misfortune of her unfaithful husband and the deep scars carved by the October Revolution, shines in the innocence of childhood along with the impetuousness of historical changes in the turbulent backdrop of early 20th-century Russia.
In contrast, the figure of Aleksey’s teenage son Ignat treads a path of ambivalent curiosity toward the shadows of his father’s past.
More than a son, he is almost a silent presence trying to unravel the riddles of life, oscillating between a desire to understand the family legacy and an anxiety to define his own path.
Natalia, the mother, stands as a beacon of stability, contrasting with Russia’s ruthless yet fascinating side shaken by the winds of the Great War, revolution, and collectivization.
The pacing of time expands and contracts amid Maria’s emotional shards of memory with those of Aleksey and Ignat, portraying human frailty and tenacity in post-revolutionary Russia, a nation between an idealized past and an uncertain future.
Finally, a period of apparent peace envelops the family, a mirage masking subtle tensions and latent anxieties.
On his path to adult days, Ignat needs to know his legacy and be free and happy: a burden seemingly going hand in hand with the desire for the rebirth of an entire nation, not just his own family.
Those Russian times running through world history
As he will later do with Stalker as well, Andrei Tarkovsky, in 1975, embarked on a daring creative journey with Mirror, defying conventionality with a movie that is a bold cinematic experiment.
Bravely, he challenges established standards and breaks the pattern, not only through narrative audacity but also in the way he was able to shape a unique masterpiece through a path of creation akin to an arduous ascent, a climb through innumerable obstacles.
He faced countless editing stages and changes, never satisfied with the result and stubborn as the best artists must be. Still, he also endured the rigid censorship of the harsh moral climate of the Soviet era.
The final work is an undefinable enigma: a dreamlike amalgam of memories and consciousness entangled in a web of thin strands with no definite structure, no linear continuity, only fragments of reality and imagination arranged like pieces of a disjointed puzzle.
Despite its unconventional form, it tells a story as simple as it is the History of us all: traveling from the Spanish Civil War and the defeat of Germany in 1945 to the Chinese Communist Revolution.
Fragments of clips throw us into the heart of these tragic days, showing the soldiers who fought from the mountains to the plains, in mud and snow, amid hunger, cold, and blood.
Even in its complex making, this film retains a simple essence: Tarkovsky speaks to the inner child in each of us, that core of purity and innocence that tries to resist the passage of time and life changes.
With a sincerity as crystal clear as the endless sky of his beloved Russia, Tarkovsky lays himself bare, telling of himself, his fears, his dreams, and his humanity in a sincere and touching dialogue with the viewer.
In the name of father, son and cinema
Simplifying the complexity of the interpretations in this film is difficult because the faces and moments of such different lives seem to converge almost into a single character: a simultaneously modest and grand figure imbued with a deep sadness.
Margarita Terechova is both Maria and Natalia, projecting an aura of charm through her; the embodiment of these two women is an empathetic journey into the hearts of two characters forced to face the tribulations of mother and wife.
Her emotional power is crystallized by simple, unforgettable gestures, such as comforting young Aleksey during a storm or dealing with the dramatic burning of the family mansion. As Natalia, however, she exudes a subtle but unstoppable resilience, a rock of solidity on which Ignat can always rely.
Oleg Yankovskiy, as Aleksey, sports a performance charged with controlled emotionality, concealing a tourbillon of feelings beneath a seemingly cold surface.
Despite his introverted nature, it is almost impossible not to find echoes of ourselves in him, mainly when, in moments of apparent simplicity such as contemplating old photographs, he seems to be sinking into an ocean of memories, with a veil of melancholy rippling across his face. However, the smile fades into nostalgia and the looming perception of impending loss.
Finally, we have Ignat Daniltsev in the dual role of young Aleksey and Ignat, the poet’s son. Surprisingly mature for his age, the little actor investigates the weakness of the other characters with simple interest.
Echoes of these voices resound in his walking through the forest around his mother’s home, a metaphor for the passage beyond the innocence and wonder typical of childhood as he seeks answers from a mother who is sometimes more alone and lost than he is.