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Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cast: Oleg Yankovskiy, Erland Josephson, Domiziana Giordano, Patrizia Terreno
Length: 125 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: January 21, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: Italian/Russian: LPCM 2.0
The Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky is best known for the films he made in his home, the Soviet Union. Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979) were a unique breed of science fiction and philosophy; his metaphysical stories unraveling as if revealed in a dream state, placing his characters in static and surreal otherworldly locales. Before his life was cut short by cancer in 1986 at the age of 54, Tarkovsky left the Soviet Union, making two films, Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986) in Italy and Sweden, respectively.
Nostalghia carries with it the melancholy longing for one’s home that Tarkovsky was experiencing in Italy. A Russian poet named Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovskiy) travels with Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano), a woman acting as his translator, to a strange isolated ancient town in Italy. He is researching the life of an 18th century Russian composer named Pavel Sosnovsky who lived there and later committed suicide. While exploring this ancient town, they meet a local crazy man named Domenico. The poet becomes fixated with him, wanting badly a chance to sit down and converse.Gorchakov is preoccupied by visions of his wife back in Russia, who he misses dearly. His loneliness has developed into debilitating homesickness, and he wanders listlessly through the Tuscan countryside. He wears his hair with an obvious stripe of gray, a reminder of old age, looming and unstoppable. He is aged further by harsh lighting in scenes of reminiscence, in dreams and simply in his mind.
His companion Eugenia is conflicted by her purpose, both as a woman and as a lover — she’s confused by her relationship to god, to men, and to her own body. She makes a mockery of the kneeling position of prayer, becomes indignant when told a woman’s purpose is to be a mother, and goes on a tirade when she finally realizes her employer does not desire her physically.
The experience of viewing Nostalghia is very much about the seeing of it; its painted light and the fog that pervades its stone structures. The ancient town, stone constructs, and dreamlike quality gives the film a feeling of timelessness. Very rarely does the film offer a peek at the outside world, and at a moment in which a road with cars is visible, it is strange and off-putting. Much like the haze of memory, the mist obstructs and obscures the locations as the characters long to have their desires met and their minds settled. Each character longs for someone, and Gorchakov and Domenico bond over their mourning of family lost in one way or another.The sound of the film is sparse, usually created by the diagetic sound of the film itself: footsteps, the movement of the characters, the sound of water. When music does find its way into the film, always from a diagetic source, it swells prominently, filling the hollow space, overwhelming the scene. It gives you a moment to focus, to contemplate the faces, the shapes, and the events that are happening. It is used sparingly and poignantly; it’s not to complement, but to punctuate.
Gorchakov is desperate to understand the present, but lost in his own memories. His final battle to symbolically “save the world” through a frivolous task assigned by the mad man Domenico is carried out in a single very long shot. Gorchakov does everything in his power to merely keep a candle lit while crossing a drained channel. His struggle is palpable, but the suspicion that all is futile is hard to keep at bay. In many ways, Nostalghia appears to not only be about, but to echo the thoughts and feelings of a man who can perceive the end looking back on his life. It is not difficult to see what a personal film it was for Tarkovsky. Nostalghia ends slowly, pulling away from its main character, seated in a massive and beautiful stone structure, snow beginning to fall around him — and a dedication to Tarkovsky’s mother.
The Nostalghia blu-ray offers evidence of the original film element without being at all invasive. As a member of the sect of cinephiles still enamored with film, this subtle reminder of the original medium enriches the viewing experience of the Kino Lorber release. The grain is visible and textural, flecked with the occasional spot of dust. The black and white sequences of the film are exceptionally gorgeous, with blacks so deep and rich you’ll feel as if you are watching a print struck just days ago. It is a beautiful transfer that archives a beautiful film.
As with the video, the audio too carries with it the sound of the film. Yet, the range is very full, the highs and lows are all fully pronounced, preserving the sound quality and the original sparse mix. In the few scenes featuring music, it seems turned up to a shocking volume, mostly due to its infrequency. Still, the suddenness of the loud music serves its purpose well and with intent.
Other than an original theatrical trailer, there are no extra features on Kino’s release.
Andrei Tarkovsky was a truly unique and visionary filmmaker. Although Nostalghia lacks some of the science fiction elements from his earlier work, it substitutes this with a personal element that cannot be overlooked or forgotten. This poetic film is an astounding work, and the Blu-ray communicates it as closely to a 35mm print as it can.