Steven Soderbergh might have warped Andrei Tarkovsky's sci-fi, chin-stroker Solaris into a distinctly anti-Hollywood success, but you'll never see a reimagining of the visionary Russian filmmaker's next project. Made in 1975, Mirror is his most wildly ambitious film - an attempt to filter a potted-history of Russia through his own foggy childhood memories. Visually stunning, baffling and intensely personal, the result is also impossibly ambiguous - but stick with it. Cinema rarely gets this close to poetry in motion.
Cruising through three generations, we find an unseen narrator (Innokenti Smoktunovsky) musing over his family, Tarkovsky's father Arseny reciting his own poetry, his mother appearing as herself and Margarita Terekhova playing both the narrator's youthful parent and his ex-wife.
"SIMPLE, STUNNING BEAUTY"
Confused yet? You will be. Mirror jettisons anything close to a plot, stirring past and present, colour and monochrome, newsreel and fiction into a kaleidoscope of the director's ponderings on childhood, memory and a century of Mother Russia. Don't forget, Mirror's personal and historical reflections aren't meant to slot together conventionally, instead flashing in and out of each other with dreamlike whimsy. Yes, it sounds like hard work. But Tarkovsky gets away with the doleful pace and elusiveness thanks to one thing - his breathtaking eye for simple, stunning beauty.
Fleeting story fragments - Stalin-era typesetter Terekhova frantic that she's missed an error in an official publication; a military instructor crippled by shell shock - eventually give way to a series of extraordinary images. A gust of wind flattening the corn, a barn burning against the sky, nuclear obliteration cut against a tiny bird landing on a child's head...
These vivid shapes and sounds shimmer with resonance, their final meaning dissolving into the sensuous rather than the cerebral. Tarkovsky called Mirror, "a film based in its entirety on personal experience. And for that reason, I'm convinced, it will be important to those who see it." We're not arguing.