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The Russian poet Andrei Gorchakov, accompanied by guide and translator Eugenia, is traveling through Italy researching the life of an 18th-century Russian composer. In an ancient spa town, he meets the lunatic Domenico, who years earlier had imprisoned his own family in his house for seven years to save them from the evils of the world. Seeing some deep truth in Domenico's act, Andrei becomes drawn to him. In a series of dreams, the poet's nostalgia for his homeland and his longing for his wife, his ambivalent feelings for Eugenia and Italy, and his sense of kinship with Domenico become intertwined. Written by
Anonymous and Brian McInnis
Nostalgia is essentially a dream play that opens with a hazy, monochromatic vision of tranquil reflection, which, not only establishes the core themes behind the film's title, but also, informs the key emotional sequences that are here revisited by the central character throughout. As a result of this, the film is as much about the feelings of loss and longing as it is about the lead character, the homesick Russian poet Andrei Gortchakov, who is exiled in Italy with his guide and translator Eugenia on a research mission into the life of a long-forgotten, 18th century composer. In the hands of any other filmmaker, this plot would give way to a series of grand adventures and curious revelations, but, as we've seen in other films, like the majestic Mirror and Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky is a filmmaker unconcerned with the external world of the film, who, instead, turns his attentions inward, to chronicle the internal angst and emotions at the heart of these tortured, complicated souls.
As is always the case with Tarkovsky's work, it could be argued that the film has further shades that somehow draw parallels with the filmmaker's own life and works; with the exiled main character here becoming the (cinematic) voice for Tarkovsky's own feelings of loss and nostalgia during the making of this film. Because of this, the cinematic depiction of the small Italian village where the film takes place is one of the gloomiest and most barren creations ever presented, especially in comparison to the kind of lush, summery vistas that we're used to seeing from this particular, geographic region. The locations used are desolate, dilapidated, over-run with moss and ivy, and swept in a constant haze of fine rain and morning fog, which allows the filmmaker to create a number of slow and haunting visual meditations that further the actual plot... but also help to visualise the inner-turmoil felt by Gortchakov at this difficult crossroad in his life. As is always the case with Tarkovsky, the visual design of the film is meticulously created and deeply hypnotic, with the production design creating an emotional labyrinth for the characters, which is then, rigorously explored by the camera.
The use of cinematography is always an important factor is Tarkovsky's work, because it is so vital in creating and (then distinguishing between) these varying layers of reality, fantasy, memory and premonition - with the filmmaker employing a variety of techniques, from cross cutting between sepia-tone and defused colour, and the juxtaposition between regular speed and slow motion. The use of those slow, mesmerising zooms (bringing to mind Kubrick's masterpiece Barry Lyndon) and those complicated tracking shots only add to the lingering tension and escalating melancholy that is perfectly established throughout the film's lethargic first act. The film is deliberately slow, like the majority of this filmmaker's work, with the camera moving at it's own pace in order to linger and meditate on certain images and moments. The editing too is deliberate in it's pace, with a number of scenes unfolding with a minimum of two to three cuts per scene (Tarkovsky always allowing the slow movement of the camera to do much of the work normally covered by the editing), which can, on occasion (particularly the first viewing), become quite tiresome. It does, nonetheless, ultimately tie in with the inner feelings and emotions so synonymous with the title and, is integral to the inner pain felt by our central characters.
Into the mix of things we also get a dose of the mystical, supplied here by the character of Domenico, another tortured soul who's back-story involves keeping his family hostage for a prolonged number of years under fear that the world would end. Domenico, like Gortchakov (and indeed, Tarkovsky), is another one of those haunted souls, inhabiting an earth they don't really understand, whilst questioning their place in the world and the world within the cosmos. Towards the end of the film, Domenico will rant atop a statue about all manner of deep theoretical issues, before Tarkovsky launches into two of the most astounding sequences he ever created. The first is a brutal and literally jaw-dropping act of emotional and physical catharsis (set to the strains of a distorted Beethoven), whilst the other is a long and slow meditation on fate (and probably the most iconic scene in this film), involving an empty pool, a lighted candle, and a weary, heartbroken Gortchakov.
Nostalgia is a deep and thoughtful film, best suited to those viewers who are interested in spending some time with a film that takes a great deal of time to fully reveal it's self. Like the majority of Tarkovsky's films, it is bleak, dreamlike and hypnotic, in the way in which the images just linger on the screen, waiting to be decoded. Some might be frustrated by the slow pace and the reliance on character over narrative, however, if you are an admirer of Tarkovsky's best films, like Andrei Rublev, Mirror and The Sacrifice, then you'll be sure to find something of interest here.
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