ⓘ Mirror (1975 film)


ⓘ Mirror (1975 film)

Mirror is a 1975 Russian art film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is loosely autobiographical, unconventionally structured, and incorporates poems composed and read by the directors father, Arseny Tarkovsky. The film features Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Alla Demidova, Anatoly Solonitsyn, Tarkovskys wife Larisa Tarkovskaya and his mother Maria Vishnyakova. Innokenty Smoktunovsky provides voiceover and Eduard Artemyev the incidental music and sound effects.

Mirror is structured in the form of a nonlinear narrative, with its main concept dating back to 1964 and undergoing multiple scripted versions by Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Misharin. It unfolds around memories recalled by a dying poet of key moments in his life and in Soviet culture. The film combines contemporary scenes with childhood memories, dreams, and newsreel footage. Its cinematography slips between color, black-and-white, and sepia. The films loose flow of visually oneiric images has been compared with the stream of consciousness technique in modernist literature.

Mirror initially polarized critics and audiences, with many considering its narrative to be incomprehensible. The work has grown in reputation since its release, and ranked nineteenth in Sight & Sound s 2012 critics poll of the best films ever made, and ninth in the directors poll. It has also found favor with many Russians for whom it remains their most beloved of Tarkovskys works.


1.1. Plot Structure and content

Mirror depicts the thoughts, emotions and memories of Alexei, or Alyosha Ignat Daniltsev, and the world around him as a child, adolescent, and forty-year-old. The adult Alexei is only briefly glimpsed, but is present as a voice-over in some scenes including substantial dialogue. The structure of the film is discontinuous and nonchronological, without a conventional plot, and combines incidents, dreams and memories along with some news-reel footage. The film switches among three different time-frames: prewar 1935, war-time 1940s, and postwar 1960s or 70s.

Mirror draws heavily on Tarkovskys own childhood. Memories such as the evacuation from Moscow to the countryside during the war, a withdrawn father and his own mother, who actually worked as a proof-reader at a printing press, featured prominently.


1.2. Plot Synopsis

The film opens with Alexeis adolescent son Ignat also played by Ignat Daniltsev switching on a television and watching the examination of a stammerer by a physician. After the opening titles roll, a scene is set in the countryside during prewar times in which Alexeis mother Maria Margarita Terekhova - also called Masha and Marusya - talks with a doctor Anatoly Solonitsyn who chances to be passing by. The exterior and interior of Alexeis grandfathers country house are seen. The young Alexei, his mother and sister watch as the family barn burns down. In a dream sequence Maria is washing her hair. Now in the postwar time-frame, Alexei is heard talking with his mother Maria on the phone while rooms of an apartment are seen. Switching back to the prewar time-frame, Maria is seen rushing frantically to her work-place as a proof-reader at a printing press. She is worrying about a mistake she may have overlooked, but is comforted by her colleague Liza Alla Demidova, who then abruptly reduces her to tears with withering criticism. Back in postwar time, Alexei quarrels with his wife, Natalia also played by Margarita Terekhova, who has divorced him and is living with their son Ignat. This is followed by news-reel scenes from the Spanish Civil War and of a balloon ascent in the U.S.S.R. In the next scene, set in Alexeis apartment, Ignat meets with a strange woman Tamara Ogorodnikova sitting at a table. At her request, Ignat reads a passage from a letter by Pushkin and receives a telephone call from his father Alexei. The strange woman vanishes mysteriously. Switching to war-time, the adolescent Alexei is seen undergoing rifle training with a dour instructor, intercut with news-reel footage of World War II and the Sino-Soviet border conflict. The reunion of Alexei and his sister with their father Oleg Yankovsky at wars end is shown. The film then returns to the quarrel between Alexei and his wife Natalia in the postwar sequence. Switching again to prewar time, vistas of the country house and surrounding countryside are followed by a dreamlike sequence showing a levitating Maria. The film then moves to the postwar time, showing Alexei apparently on his death-bed with a mysterious malady. The final scene plays in the prewar time-frame, showing a pregnant mother, Maria, intercut with scenes showing Maria young and old. Old Maria is played by Tarkovskys own mother, Maria Vishnyakova.


2. Cast

N.B. Several of the characters are played by the same actors.

  • Arseny Tarkovsky as Narrator/Poet voice only
  • Larisa Tarkovskaya as Nadezhda, Alexeis neighbor
  • Maria Vishnyakova as the elderly Maria
  • Alla Demidova as Liza, Marias friend at printing house
  • Filipp Yankovsky as the child Alexei
  • Margarita Terekhova as the young Maria/Masha/Maroussia, Alexeis mother, and Natalia, Alexeis wife
  • Oleg Yankovsky, Alexeis father
  • Tamara Ogorodnikova as Nanny and Strange woman at the tea table
  • Ignat Daniltsev as the adolescent Alexei and Ignat, Alexeis son
  • Anatoly Solonitsyn as Forensic doctor & pedestrian
  • Innokenty Smoktunovsky as the adult Alexei voice only
  • Olga Kizilova as the redhead girl

3.1. Production Writing

The concept of Mirror dates as far back as 1964, when Tarkovsky wrote down his idea for a film about the dreams and memories of a man, though without the man appearing on screen as he would in a conventional film. The first episodes of Mirror were written while Tarkovsky was working on Andrei Rublev. These episodes were published as a short story under the title A White Day in 1970. The title was taken from a 1942 poem by his father, Arseny Tarkovsky. In 1968, after having finished Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky went to the cinematographers resort in Repino intending to write the script for The Mirror together with Aleksandr Misharin. This script was titled Confession and was proposed to the film committee at Goskino. Although it contained popular themes – for example, a heroic mother, the war, and patriotism – the proposal was turned down. The main reason was most likely the complex and unconventional nature of the script. Moreover, Tarkovsky and Misharin clearly stated that they did not know what the final form of the film would be – this was to be determined in the process of filming.

With the script being turned down by the film committee, Tarkovsky went on to make the film Solaris. But his diary entries show that he was still eager to make the film. Finally, the script was approved by the new head of Goskino, Filipp Ermash in the summer of 1973. Tarkovsky was given a budget of 622.000 Soviet ruble and 7500 metres 24.606 feet of Kodak film, corresponding to 110 minutes, or roughly three takes assuming a film length of 3000 metres 10.000 feet.

Several versions of the script for Mirror exist, as Tarkovsky constantly rewrote parts of the script, with the latest variant of the script written in 1974 while he was in Italy. One scene that was in the script but that was removed during shooting was an interview with his mother. Tarkovsky wanted to use a hidden camera to interview her on the pretext that it was research for the film. This scene was one of the main reasons why Vadim Yusov, who was the camera-man for all of Tarkovskys previous films refused to work with him on this film. At various times, the script and the film was known under the titles Confession, Redemption, Martyrology, Why are you standing so far away?, The Raging Stream and A White, White Day sometimes also translated as A Bright, Bright Day. Only while filming Tarkovsky decided to finally title the film Mirror. The final film does indeed feature several mirrors with some scenes shot in reflection.

A poster of Tarkovskys 1969 film Andrei Rublev is seen on a wall. Mirror thus forms the third part, together with Tarkovskys previous film Solaris which was made in 1972 and which references Andrei Rublev by having an icon made by him being placed in the main characters room, in a series of three films by Tarkovsky referencing Andrei Rublev.


3.2. Production Casting

Initially, Tarkovsky considered Alla Demidova and Swedish actress Bibi Andersson for the role of the mother. In the end Margarita Terekhova was chosen.


4. Release

Mirror never had an official premiere and had only a limited, second category release with only 73 copies. Although it was officially announced for September 1975, it was shown as early as March 1975.


5. Reception

When Mosfilm critics were asked in November 1974 to evaluate Mirror, responses were divided. Some viewed it as a major work that would be better understood upon the analysis of future generations; others dismissed it as an unfocused failure and believed that even more cultured viewers would find its story opaque. This resulted in a very limited distribution. Many audience members walked out of theatrical screenings, but those who approved of the work were ardent in their praise. In a 1975 article for The New York Times, James F. Clarity reported that "in the first round of published reviews, in which some of Mr. Tarkovskys fellow film makers evaluated his new work, there is much praise, tempered with criticism of some parts of the film." Goskino did not allow it to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The managing director of the festival, Maurice Bessy, was sympathetic to Tarkovsky. Upon hearing that Mirror would not be allowed to be shown in Cannes, he unsuccessfully threatened not to take any other Soviet film.

Mirror is now frequently listed among the greatest films of all time. In a 2012 Sight & Sound directors poll, Mirror ranked as the 9th greatest film of all time. In a parallel poll by film critics, the film ranks at No. 19. In 2012, Will Self argued that it remains the most beautiful film ever made. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "a startling piece of film-making" and described many of its images as "transcendentally brilliant". In the British Film Institute, the film is billed as "a work of cumulative, rhythmic effect" and its unconventional narrative is credited with having "pioneered a poetic and richly allusive form." Director Michael Haneke voted for Mirror in the 2002 Sight & Sound directors poll, and later said that he has seen the picture at least 25 times.


6. Interpretation

While highly acclaimed, Mirror continues to be viewed as enigmatic. Natasha Synessios wrote that it is closer in structure to a musical piece than a narrative film, noting that Tarkovsky himself "always maintained that he used the laws of music as the films organisational principle.emphasis placed not on the logic, but the form, of the flow of events." Critic Antti Alanen billed the film as a "space odyssey into the interior of the psyche" and Tarkovskys In Search of Lost Time. Howard Hampton argued that the works central subject is "the inescapable persistence of the past."


7. Trivia

  • A poster of Tarkovskys 1969 film Andrei Rublev is seen on a wall.
  • The soundtrack also features an aria from Henry Purcells The Indian Queen "They tell us that your mighty powers", played by Bath Festival Orchestra and conducted by Yehudi Menuhin.
  • Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is quoted by the skipping collaborator at the Printing Press: "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita."
  • Another of Bach’s works, Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614, played by Leonid Roizman, is heard during the opening credits.
  • A recitative from Johann Sebastian Bachs Johannes-Passion "Und siehe da, der Vorhang im Tempel." features in the score, as does the opening chorus of Johannes-Passion accompanying the films memorable closing scene.