Nostalgia ★★★

[deep breath] There are people who believe the idea of Godard making an unsuccessful film is purely hypothetical, and they get very upset with intellectually-underperforming philistines who aren't with the program, a level of dedication with a certain level of faith-investment I find hard to muster. That commitment goes for Tarkovsky too, but (ulp) I'm an agnostic. So look: Nostalghia is gorgeous, in non-maximalist ways that have to do with slivers of light and shade reflected on the tiniest of surfaces. (I could see a film like this serving as the basis for e.g. the entire Lisandro Alonso project thus far.) Tarkovsky understands that the compositional differences that ensue when moving a camera even six inches can be enormous, and close attention is required to keep up. No problem!

And yet: here's a filmmaker who said, no joke intended, "I can't stand mirth. Cheerful people seem guilty to me, because they can't comprehend the mournful value of existence. I accept happiness only in children and the elderly, with all others I am intolerant." This isn't even that far off from my worldview, but I find it hard to take when it's so clearly and strongly expressed, without anything to dispel the one-directional gloom aside from a friendly canine (dogs get a pass too, apparently). For Tarkovsky, faith and spirituality is a constant quest most clearly expressed in a slow trudge through an obstacle course of his own devising, one in which the most minute journey distance-wise is an arduous trek, in which every step has as much potential difficulty and degree of difference for the person moving as for the camera. Here, his chosen sites of contemplation are interiors that are very much Zone II, to the point of self-parody — water dripping down from the ceiling onto a tiled floor exactly here, a rusty object placed meticulously right there, all calibrated for certain depth-of-frame effects — to the point where this is closer to an installation than a film. The result seems (to me, of little faith) a melding of the worst of The Mirror (more of father Arseniy's poetry and more overt autobiography, the filmmaker-in-exile represented rather bluntly) without that film's giddy speed and Stalker.