This past Friday, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia (1983) was screened at the TIFF Bell Light Box, as part of TIFF’s series of Russian cinema. Tarkovsky is considered the most influential post-war Soviet film director and Nostalghia does not disappoint by displaying the iconic elements of the auteur.
The history of Soviet cinema is laced with government interference, meaning that artists were restrained in what they could portray. After the 1960s, artists had more autonomy in their creativity, but they could not disparage their homeland and would still battle with censorship. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian cinema opened more themes that could be explored, while still reflecting on the country’s past.
Tarkovsky’s legacy is tied to the consistent elements utilized in his entire filmography. The use of dream sequences, long tracking shots, and tackling of philosophical themes are only a small number of elements the director is known for. In Tarkovsky’s sci-fi thriller masterpiece Stalker (1979), the director’s distinct style of switching colour is displayed with the shift between sepia tone and colour.
Tarkovsky had a difficult relationship with the Soviet Union as many of his scripts were censored by the government for indecency against the country. When he was filming Nostalghia in Italy and the financing from a U.S.S.R. film company was revoked, he never returned home because of the constant interference of authorities.
Nostalghia is the first film Tarkovsky directed outside of the U.S.S.R. It follows writer Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovsky) in Italy collecting research on a famed Russian composer. While quarreling with his translator Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) he meets the local outcast Domenico (Erland Josephson) who shares his feeling of loneliness. Gorchakov quickly abandons his research and falls into a state of isolation as he longs for his family back in the U.S.S.R. and attempts to fulfill Domenico’s odd request he says will save the world.
Nostalghia is rich with religious iconography. At the beginning of the film, Eugenia enters a convent filled with frescos of the Madonna and Child. She has a lengthy discussion with an onlooker about her lack of connection to this symbol and the theme of faith is displayed throughout.
Nostalghia is daunting to watch as it lacks consistent plot and dialogue. Gorchakov quickly abandons his research project to talk with Domenico momentarily. He proceeds to sulk around the Italian village and does not communicate his feelings. His thoughts are expressed through dream sequences which are very nuanced and symbolic. The film’s underlying themes are not outwardly expressed, and it is not uncommon to watch the film twice to catch these themes.
Although the plot may not be as straightforward at times, I found myself being engrossed with the visuals.
In Nostalghia, Tarkovsky’s renowned elements are on full display, and shows the legacy of the legendary filmmaker.