Mirror was Andrei Tarkovsky’s most personal film, and arguably his most indulgent. It was made between his two sci-fi films, Solaris and Stalker, but even the most abstract aspects of those films still have a narrative line through them (Tarkvosky considered Solaris a “failure” because it was too much of a conventional science fiction film.) Mirror, however, is a cinematic poem to dreams and memory, and any notion of narrative plot is more or less gone.
The film was something Tarkvosky had been planning since the early to mid ’60s. He finally finished an early draft of the script and submitted it to Goskino, which was the Soviet committee that approved film projects. They couldn’t make heads of tales of it, and I can well imagine that they considered the project “decadent” and “bourgeois” as a result. It was finally approved by the state when the head of the Goskino changed.
Tarkovsky weaves together family memories, dreams, poetry it’s all set around the main character Alexei’s (Ignat Daniltsev) life in an almost collage fashion. It draws heavily on Tarkovsky’s own childhood, and it’s split into three stages: childhood, adolescence and adulthood, which correspond with the pre-war, war and post-war years. The time frames are fluid, and jump back and forth with reckless abandon. It’s a film you experience, you dream in—you feel it more than you watch it. It’s a singular work by a master filmmaker. Even if at times it is undoubtedly too elusive and pretentious to completely fall in love with, it has many fans, and I respect the film enormously—but sometimes you just want a story.
Mirror is certainly not the first Tarkovsky to watch—that’s clearly Solaris or Ivan’s Childhood. I will always maintain that Ivan’s Childhood is his best. The story is great, the visuals are breath-taking, the child actor is out of this world, and it runs for just 90 minutes, which would make Roger Corman proud! However, there is no other film like Mirror, so it’s a must-see, even if doesn’t always reveals it’s pleasures easily.
Criterion has compiled a wonderful package for the film, including a new documentary on Tarkovsky by his son Andrei A.; The Dream in the Mirror, a new documentary by Louise Milne and Seán Martin; a new interview with composer Eduard Artemyev; a 2007 documentary about cinematographer Georgy Rerberg; and archival interviews with Tarkvosky and screenwriter Alexander Misharin. The booklet includes an essay by critic Carmen Gray, and a copy of the 1968 proposal and “literary script” for the film.