Mirror (or The Mirror in the US) is a semi-autobiographical art film by Andrei Tarkovsky, the filmmaker behind Ivan’s Childhood, Solaris and The Sacrifice. Mirror has received near universal praise from critics and has high profile fans like Lars von Trier and the author Will Self – but it is really a film that has a niche audience.
Mirror tells the story of a dying man looking back on his life – told in a non-linear format he looks back on his relationship with his mother, his childhood in rural Russia and experience during the war.
Despite the praise Mirror has received, it is really a film for pseudo-intellectuals who like to show their mental prowess. It is not a movie to watch to be entertained or even be compelled by. There is no attempt to engage the audience with a narrative, and the movie is just a loose collection of events, and the term events is being used loosely. For viewers who want a story, Mirror is not going to provide this.
Mirror is an example of some of worst aspect of art house and European cinema. There is an obsession with mood and philosophical ideas. Because of the narrator’s impending morality he goes into a reflective mood, talking about how he will live forever and wanting to spend more time with his son before he departs from this world. The movie also forces comparisons to religion and the separation of church and state with a self-indulgent scene where the narrator’s son is made to read a letter about Russian history and its connection with the church. Many European films from the 60s and 70s, usually from nations like France, Italy and Russia, are cursed with the writers and directors being more interested in making a film to show how thoughtful and well-read they are – having characters who talk about politics, society and the purpose of life with critics and art students lapping it all up.
Mirror‘s best feature is its visuals. Tarkovsky is a director known for long takes and slow meticulous shots. Many scenes were filmed with gradual camera movements, allowing the actors to perform uninterrupted and show the various locations and background actions. It was a beautiful looking film, especially when showing the luscious Russian countryside and the snowy locales when children are being trained how to shoot. Fire that is a motif throughout Mirror, pops out when it appears on screen.
Mirror personally reminded me of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, a movie that had a fantastic use of visuals and music, but wrapped with symbolism and pretention. There was no story or characters to entice audiences beyond hardcore art-house fans. Scenes like the burning barn or the dream of the crumbling house could have been shown as an institution at an art gallery, and it would have more of an impact. It would have been less frustrating.
Call me a cretin but I was not memorized by Mirror, I was frustrated. It was slow and tedious. His war movie Ivan’s Childhood was much stronger on a story and thematic level, and it is a much easier entry point for anyone looking to explore Tarkovsky’s work.