Nostalghia (1983, Andrei Tarkovsky)

“You want to be happy. There are more important things.”

A woman (Domiziana Giordano of Godard’s Nouvelle Vague) is a faithless tourist in an italian church, cluttering its ancient traditions with her modern feminist ideas. An interesting, beautiful scene but I knew Tarkovsky wouldn’t have a female protagonist, so it turns out she’s the Italian translator for our Russian poet hero Andrei (Oleg Yankovskiy of The Mirror and The Man Who Cried). He’s visiting some ancient hot baths as research for a book he’ll write on an 18th-century Russian composer who spent some time there.

Andrei becomes fascinated with local madman Domenico (Erland Josephson of The Sacrifice and some eight Bergman films). Visits his rainy, ruined house and listens to his superstitions. Returns to the translator, who is leaving in a rage, says Andrei is so charmless and boring that he may not even exist. She acts like she’s breaking up their love affair, even though they didn’t have one. But later, safely back in Rome with her boyfriend (a humorless-looking businessman) she phones Andrei telling him to meet Domenico in Rome.

Instead, Andrei goes back to the baths and attempts to complete Domenico’s quest to walk from one side of the pool to the other holding a lighted candle, while Domenico himself gives a speech atop a statue then lights himself on fire. Andrei has two failed attempts and a single success in one mobile ten-minute shot, after which Andrei seems to collapse, leading to a long, crazy black-and-white shot of the poet with Domenico’s dog in front of a Russian house within an Italian cathedral.

Co-written with Antonioni/Fellini screenwriter Tonino Guerra, won three awards at Cannes. Can’t say I understood the movie’s intentions, but I enjoyed it for being a gorgeous bit of cinema. Some fun trick photography and lots of very long takes, plus imagery I recognized from other Tarkovsky movies, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen one – ruined houses in My Name Is Ivan and Stalker, plants waving underwater in Solaris.

Acquarello says he filmed it “in exile,” calls it a “symbolically obscure … cinematic abstract of spiritual hunger” that “mourns an irretrievable past and an uncertain future.”

Tarkovsky: “I do not harbor any particularly deep or profound thoughts about my own work. I simply have no idea what my symbols represent. The only thing I am after is for them to give birth to certain emotions.”

“I want to give expression to the impossibility of living in a divided world, a world torn to pieces.” In interviews, Tarkovsky says that his lead character is an architecture professor and Domenico a former math teacher. “Let us say that what I like the most in them is the confidence with which the madman acts and the tenacity of the traveler in his attempts at achieving a greater level of understanding. That tenacity could also be called hope.”

One more: Tarkovsky says he most values in this film “its almost unbearable sadness, which, however, reflects very well my need to immerse myself in spirituality. In any case, 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.” And when asked about his pessimism: “The true pessimists are those who continue to seek happiness. Wait for two or three years and then go and ask them what they have attained.”

Thanks very much to for their collection of translated interviews and articles.

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