Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
1975, coincidentally, was the year where two giants of cinema decided to construct an autobiographical manifesto of extremely gigantic proportions that paralleled their respective pasts with the nostalgic history of the Soviet Union and Greece: Andrei Tarkovsky (Zerkalo) and Theodoros Angelopoulos (O Thiasos). Whereas the latter had a massive approach of political turmoil, Tarkovsky's fourth film (and, consequently, fourth masterpiece) is a haunting testament of indescribable beauty, breathtaking stillness and complete mysticism. Therefore, he is an extremely dangerous filmmaker... dangerous in the sense that he has the capacity of ruining cinema. When a viewer willingly decides to witness a spectacle of such huge magnitudes of artistry, he/she is even compelled to stop seeing films for a determined period of time in order to not be disappointed by the next film that was supposed to be seen. Also, the futility of constructing and objective review is maximized: it no longer makes sense and, yet, one wants to share the message and to at least let the world know of the influence and undeniable power of such cinematic artwork. The short filmography of one of the greatest directors of all times is immediately compensated by the superiority, originality, poetry and remarkable vision he possessed towards a world dominated and judged by God.
The protagonist is a man in his forties. His death is imminent, and relying on a narrative structure and a filmic style that obeys the rules and nature of a stream of consciousness, the film thoroughly examines through flashbacks the key moments that defined the political structure of the Russian nation. Mixing historical footage, Zerkalo displays the childhood of the protagonist during the Second World War, his adolescence and the emotionally painful divorce he latterly went through. In a brilliant form, his nonlinear memories are intertwined with political and societal reflections about the Soviet Union as a society whose members work united in order to surpass the infinite hardships that have molded their history.
This is the first film within Tarkovsky's filmography that makes the plot to rely heavily on the visual style and the complex psychological symbolisms. The script is expertly written, like imitating the strongest provocative literary features of the greatest and most renowned poets, and adapting them to an autobiographical tale for the whole world to watch and appreciate. Its power is literally unprecedented, and the director's mastery is present all the way through. However, what makes this film so brilliant is its uniqueness in storytelling. The basic premise of the film is a man dying in his forties; we are totally transported inside his mind and are forced to recall the most important events of his life in the order his heart dictates him to. Naturally, Tarkovsky did not remain with his arms crossed and therefore decided, along with the genius screenwriter Aleksandr Misharin and the poems written by Arseni Tarkovsky, to add a cinematographic signature. Throughout, we witness divine transitions, mystical editing, nightmarish sequences of unexplainable supernatural phenomena, a haunting musical score that resembles Solyaris (1972) in the opening credits and provocative, emotionally heartbreaking and powerfully nostalgic time travels, from a devastated landscape to the still inescapable present time.
The description does not end there. With an unparalleled, complex screenplay, the cast of actors and actresses that impersonated the different emotional roles that have a strong connection with the protagonist change. This is, at a certain sequence, an actor plays a role and, at a much later scene, the same actor plays another character. The answer to the question about why did the director decide to employ such technique can be found in the title of the film: Mirror. A disillusioned grandmother, a confused and abandoned son, a forcefully optimistic, distant and conservative mother... All of them mirror psychological characteristics; all of them share the same tumultuous environment; all of them are being internally shattered by the same universal din. "Mirror" is the metaphor for disillusionment and the subsequent endless pursuit of happiness. The magic of the film is irradiated from the fact that Tarkovsky grabs a world that is conventional to the society. Nonetheless, this does not mean that Zerkalo is specifically aimed towards Russian audiences; it appeals to any falsely democratic and governmental nation that has existed throughout the last decades, including the actuality.
Witnessing historical footage, both brutal and inspirational, serves the purpose of a nostalgic environment and, at the same time, we understand the sentiments of a politically traumatized society so we can compare them with the fictitious characters of the movie. It means reconstruction, not revolution. Dividing itself in three different parts (pre-war, war-time and post-war), Zerkalo is a magnificent tribute to the fortitude of past political figures, but also to those unknown family members that had a remarkable strength and had to face incredibly tumultuous hardships, finally surviving for the sake of their closest relatives. However, its graphic complexity was audacious enough to add surreal sequences of merely symbolic meaning, from representing the psychological transformation of the characters so they could begin a new face of their lives, to incarnating the deepest desires of unrequited love, non-corresponded family companionship and sentimentalist redemption. Tarkovsky, like the passionately religious filmmaker that he is, captures an extraordinarily omniscient and evident presence of an almighty God that witnesses the great diversity of personal and universal events in a non-neutral way, almost interfering in their respective fates. And as for influencing future filmmakers along with Theodoros Angelopoulos like Béla Tarr (Kárhozat , Sátántangó ), Tarkovsky implements for the first time a dazzling and ambitious camerawork that captures every single element and object of an everyday lifestyle that normally go unperceived and assigns them a significant, atmospherically satisfying meaning, including a method that consists in long shots that follow the steps of the characters at their own rhythm.
Frankly, that is all I can do. No review can make this film justice and, normally, a film of such epic scope is perfectly developed in a longer running time. Giant of cinema Andrei Tarkovsky only needed 108 minutes and ¡voilá!... an unforgettable series of events with a revolutionary, non-narrative structure has already been displayed in front of our eyes. We do not want this journey to end, but it must. It is a cycle, but in order for a new beginning to take place, there must be a prior ending. The purpose of this magnum opus is not to confuse, but to celebrate and to exalt the human condition. There is goodness in the world, and there is evil. There are incidents that mark the heart of a woman and a man permanently and, then, there is oblivion. There is love and there is hatred. There are injuries and there are cures. There is the real world and there is the dream world. There is the perceivable and there is the imagined. For Tarkovsky, everything works as fitting pieces of a puzzle: a puzzle called life. Nevertheless, this puzzle has a complicated peculiarity: if the pieces are arranged differently, the puzzle will not be mistakenly made, but it will form a different result. Zerkalo, on a cathartic level, may mirror our own consciousness. Our perception towards the world is challenged, and reflection is an inevitable psychological reaction, impossible to avoid. It is one of the best films ever made. Oh my... such a gorgeous imagery!