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Tarkovsky's Final Masterpiece
RobertF8718 February 2005
Andrei Tarkovsky was without a doubt one of the genuine artist working in the cinema. With films such as "Andrei Rublev", "Solaris", "Mirror", Stalker" and "Nostalghia", Tarkovsky enriched the world with powerful works for art. "Sacrifice" was his final film, made while Tarkovsky was dying of cancer. The story concerns an elderly academic who lives with his family in a rural part of Sweden. When he learns that about an imminent nuclear war, he makes a desperate pact with God. The film is astonishingly beautiful, like all Tarkovsky's films. Images of nature, water and fire feature prominently, as does the shifting from colour images to black and white.

It is important to remember that Tarkovsky is not a very accessible film-maker, and his films make great demands on viewer's patience and attention, but if you are willing to make the effort you will be rewarded by an unforgettable experience.
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Andrei Tarkovsky Does Ingmar Bergman, Philip K. Dick Style?
Joseph Sylvers13 August 2008
Andrie Tarkaovsky's final film takes elements from Ingmar Bergman, "I Am Cuba" with a story that if not influenced by, is a kind of psychic cousin to the later works of Philip K. Dick.

A family on a small Swedish island, find out the world is about to end(there's nowhere to hid and nothing that can be done)...planes heard overhead, and television warnings are all anyone knows. So far this doesn't sound too different from Bergamn's "Shame" where a couple try to escape from the world and war, on a similar small Swedish Island. The difference is where Bergman, dissects his characters down to nothingness, Tarkovsky includes mysterious post-men obsessed with miracles, a maid who may be a powerful witch, a man with the chance to re-create the universe, and a love making scene in mid-air?

That Tarkovsky moves with such subtly between psychological study, religious allegory, and science fiction tropes, should'nt be too much of a surprise considering his early philosophical SF films like "Solaris", and "Stalker"(which I may re-watch, cus of this film, though I hated it before). Like Philip K. Dick, end of the world paranoia, reality manipulation, and the religious (specifically Christian) ecstatic vision all merge together in 'The Sacrifice", with a lot more force and clarity(at least for me) than in any of his earlier films.

The lead character seems like a stand in for Tarkovsky himself, his views on nature, art, God, progress, and humanity, seem to match pretty closely with some he gives in the interview section of the DVD.

It's still slow as all hell, but the intensity of the story helps balance out the visual pace. It's not as instantly impressive as some of Tarkovsky's other films, but I think this maybe his strongest movie, all around.

It's the story of a man who saved the world, without anyone ever knowing it, and the trade off, man must make with God, in order to survive. A prayer on film.
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Slow but satisfying.
clard111 December 2001
Quite possibly my favourite film. Quite why I'm not always sure -- perhaps this is really a rather pretentious film ? Perhaps one in which a long time is spent without engaging the audience ? One with perhaps the most unlikely postman one might meet outside of a Bergman film set ? But, from the moment the camera opens lovingly on the icon, to the closing as the ambulance drives away, I find myself captivated, and drawn back to watch again. As with Tarkovsky's other films, certain images linger long in the memory:"little man" watering the ikebana, the levitating witch, the crashing milk jug, the roar of the jets. For those of us cursed with a lifetime of weekly wage slavery this is a fine restorative film for the spirit.
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maeva21 September 2004
This is the best movie I have seen so far. I watch it again about once or twice a year, like a ritual or an annual holiday I would be taking into levels of consciousness where the mind is not really required. I do not understand, and I do not feel like I have to, it is secondary. I feel touched like only pure and silent beauty can touch me, or bliss. It is obviously created around an idea of sacrifice, being both a gift to others but also to ourselves. By offering his life in order to save his family, his grandson and the world, the main character is also giving a true meaning to his own life that had mostly been of artificiality, questionings and shallowness. Every person who enters the house, he starts seeing under a deeper if not more expressionistic light... And when he meets with magic (while making love with the witch) he creates the bridge that will take him from reality into mystery. The whole film is as breathtaking and self-sufficient as a painting, or even more so, a Russian icon. It is ageless. I suppose it will remain with me for my entire life. I consider it Tarkovsky's last will, but even more so a piece of the Human Heritage that should be protected and kept accessible for future generation.
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Beautiful, binding, and supremely terrifying.
iliawarlock14 November 2000
It is difficult to find words expressive enough for Tarkovsky's final--and perhaps greatest--work. One could briefly explain some of the plot, but that would mean nothing. This is a film that speaks of terror, of faith, and above all, of binding promises. An intellectual, living in a remote and beautiful cottage is celebrating his birthday with friends and family--when war is announced. Promises of life, and of death are the main premise of the film, and one cannot walk away from it. This is the sort of film that terrifies, ensnares, and draws you in, so that no matter what the moment, you cannot rip yourself away. Filmed with supreme skill and incredible beauty (every separate shot is breathtaking), this is a film that forces you to look at your life, your premises, and your entire evaluation of existence.

The question of liking or disliking this film is unimportant. Undoubtedly there will be people who will dislike it. But the one thing that is indeed impossible, is to remain indifferent to it.
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Find it, Get it somehow... It will change your life.
Sculptor25 January 1999
I have just registered to the database, and this is my first review that I've written for it. The first film I thought of was The Sacrifice, Andrei Tarkovsky's final masterwork, and in my opinion his best. This film affected me like no other, and forced me to look at Tarkovsky in an all new light, as a spiritual creator. See this film, I guarantee it will change your outlook on life if you give it the chance. It is the most challenging, spiritually invigorating film I have ever seen, by truly the greatest cinematic poet/visionary of all time. Tarkvosky is the future of cinema, the one who carried the torch, the one whom all aspiring cinematic artists should look to, and a genius who passed far before his rightful time.
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Too Much Sense
tedg20 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Tarkovsky is one of the five inventors of cinema, and the one most disconnected from the constraints of reality. He is highly intuitive, visually rooted of course and deliberately eschews the necessity of making narrative `sense.' The magic of his earlier masterpieces (`Rublyev,' `Mirror') is precisely in how he sustained a reality with highly folded, irrational causality.

But as he grew older, he became celebrated and ineluctably developed `theories' of his approach. He began speaking and writing about his work and slowly slipped into the safe harbor of making sense. This film -- his last as it turns out -- is the result.

Along the way, he allied himself with Bergman, someone who always was rooted precisely in the simple narrative. Bergman's heritage is the theater. He begins with `real' life, abstracting and staging elements of it. Bergman's whole point is to make the sense of the situation easy to read so that he can intensify and embellish it. Life is real, and because we can enter the reality of a Bergman film, we can emotionally relate to it. Bergman's world is allegorical, real, and causally connected where Tarkovsky's is metaphorical, ultrareal with causal folding.

So it is a strange voyage for Tarkovsky to convince himself of the logic of his theories, and to journey to Bergman's doorstep.

This film has a strongly Tarkovsky-ite beginning (until the map) and end (the last 47 minutes beginning with the visit of the actor to the witch or -- depending on your tolerance -- perhaps a few minutes before with the vision of the small house). In between, there is a muddle of emotional angst that is clumsily inserted. Also, it may be my imagination, but all the cinematography seems different than his earlier work. His early eye was languorously curious, lingering and floating. Here it is Bergmenesque: deliberately fated, smooth with premeditated and goals with foreknowledge of the fate.

To see what I mean: look at the documentary included on the Kino DVD. That documentary is flatly stupid in plumbing the mysteries of Tarkovsky (it elucidates his `theories'), but it does include the remarkable original shot of the transition from the witch's visit to the post-holocaust peace. The original is pure Tarkovsky: a shot of the actor, then panning to a scene with the same actor surrounded, then a continuous movement through visitors, reflections, players in the magic, the world, and a remarkable image of the nude daughter corralling chickens. Only that last image remains in the final version which is reduced to Bergman-like clarity. It is dramatically economical, but Andrei's poetry is lost. It is a dead tree planted with high hopes.

This package: the film, the documentary on the film and the book, are proof that artists are often not the best source of insight into their art. This film, alas, is not "The Tempest," a self-referential perspective on an artist who understands his own magic. It is instead an echo of that artist's misunderstanding of himself.

Must be seen for that alone, preferably after "Prospero's Books."

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
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A perfect example of the difference between true cinema and the Big Macs that Hollywood feeds us.
vito40778 May 2004
Tarkovsky's death bed film certainly lacks some of the fire and energy of his earlier work, but the story of Alexander's search for faith amidst the worst kind of madness is by no means dull. The cinematography and editing are obviously Bergman influenced, but anyone who says that it bothers them to see Tarkovsky borrow the style of another needs to learn more about Eisenstein, Kuleshov, and perhaps Wajda.

This film serves as a stark example of the real difference between the work of the European authors and Hollywood. While viewing, keep an eye on the editing. Th film opens on a five minute long shot in which it is extremely difficult to even discern which character is speaking. The scenes are made up of as few shots as possible and the shortest shot of the entire film is about 10 seconds. There are less than a dozen close ups in the entire piece, which may be why American audiences with their limited attention spans, would reject the film. The Sacrifice might not sit well with Tarkovsky purists, but it's themes and philosophy, I feel, surpass in depth, any of the master's other works.
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Altogether a Masterpiece
jimmcheyser11 October 2002
This is a spare and haunting work that weaves its spell slowly yet powerfully. Every shot is framed with loving care, and Tarkovsky allows the camera to remain fixed on a scene as events unfold. It's perhaps the most beautifully photographed film I've ever seen. There's very little music during the course of the movie, yet subtle, mysterious sounds contribute to an overall feeling of mystery and foreboding. The acting and dialogue are no doubt greatly influenced by the work of Bergman. Perhaps the film is a kind of homage to him.

This is definitely not a popcorn movie, nor one to see on a first date. I recommend you see it when you're not distracted or impatient - when you can be fully present and mindful as events develop at an unhurried, organic, human pace. The cumulative effect is devastating, yet somehow wonderfully cathartic.
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Mesmerizing, Spellbinding Masterpiece
Enrique Sanchez31 July 2004
I sit here, agog, with the holy terror of wonder and amazement at the immensely tender spirituality which this film has bestowed upon me.

This is my second Tarkovsky film...and now I am hooked. I am not going to be very successful in explaining this movie to anyone -- even to myself, so forgive the sketchiness of these reflections.

THE SACRIFICE is a revelation to me. The level of pathos I feel right now is overwhelming -- something that has occurred too infrequently in my life.

This film regards the human soul as the most precious commodity possible and life as it's most ample celebration. "Time cannot vanish without trace.." Tarkovsky has said. And so the time that Tarkovsky spent on this Earth, has been well spent and he has left more than a trace for future generations to wonder and ponder at.

I adore Tarkovsky's images, so lovingly photographed here by SVEN NIKVIST. Most remarkable of these images are the final settings where everything comes to a point...even THEY have dialogue made up of great silences packed with intensely significant emotions which have come from the protagonist's culmination.

The choice of music here is also deeply personal and wildly original in its contrasts and penetrating meaning. In the final strains, we hear first the modern and timeless Asian sensibilities of Watazumido Shuso. After which a great silence of visual narrative we are offered a spiritual selection from some of the most beautiful music ever written -- Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

All of these, combine in one's mind's eye and heart to provide the thoughtful viewer with one of the most spiritually satisfying endings of any movie I have ever witnessed.

The movie seems long but, it really isn't as long as you might imagine. I suppose it is because so much of the narrative is not splashed into our senses -- ready for regurgitation. There is much we must work for. There is much for which we must contribute our own viewpoints and form our own conclusions.

But then life isn't filled with dialogue in the conventional is more packed with our own thoughts and our own decisions -- as so is this film. It allows you to conclude many things on your own.

Isn't it kind of Tarkovsky to have been so benevolent to us and our panoply of thought-patterns? We come to this movie all with our different characters and personalities...Tarkovsky thought of this.

And he offered us a masterpiece - where we were the mental protagonist who made the endings for each us - our own -- and yet all different -- but the same, after all.
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If you give this film the attention and patience it deserves, you will be greatly rewarded.
kunibobalooney8 June 2004
Please forgive this disorganized, vague is difficult to put into words what this film has done for me, as it is a spiritual experiment in time and character more than it is a traditional film.

I will say right off that this movie is not for everyone. Tarkovsky is a fan of long takes, slow character development and awkward silences. Even though this is one of my favourite films, it was a struggle to get through the whole thing...which is, in fact, an effective medium to describe a man who is finding it a struggle to progress with his everyday life. The settings are fittingly dreary and dismal; indeed, his son seems to be the only spark of life in the film.

There is no plot to speak of; the film is an in-depth character study. Tarkovsky has given the main character so many dimensions that one cannot help but wonder if it is semi-autobiographical. Elements of magic realism serve to enhance the character's despair and isolation, but there are finely-crafted human details -- such as a shaking hand that must try twice to light a match properly -- that give the film a very realistic sense. The world Tarkovsky has created is like a vivid dream.

The images in this movie are incredible: watch for his use of fire, wood, earth and water, for all four elements are heavily drawn upon in his shots.

There is a documentary floating around out there that has Tarkovsky discuss this film in depth; it shows the processes he invented to create some of the takes, and the stubbornness he exhibits to get everything to match his vision perfectly. I saw the documentary before the film, and I think it only added to my appreciation. His book, "Sculpting in Time," also offers insights and bits of philosophy that add dimensions to this movie.

Though I regret that Tarkovsky passed before he could produce more works like this, "The Sacrifice" is a fitting epilogue to his collection of films, and perhaps the best eulogy a person could ever hope for.
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Difficult but worth it
fred3f28 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Minor spoilers. This is not a film for everyone, and probably not a film for most. However, if you like art, it might be a film for you. The director, Andrei Tarkovsky, viewed film as art and his films make few, if any, concessions to commercialization and marketing. If you are looking strictly for entertainment, you may find this film to be slow, boring and depressing. However, if you are looking for art, then you should not ignore this film.

The artistic merits of the film are considerable. The theme is an individual's relationship to God, politics and mankind in general. How can a sensitive and intelligent person come to grips with these huge and sometimes overwhelming parts of life and still keep his own integrity in tact. Just attempting a subject like this is courageous and laudable, but in doing so the director walks dangerous ground. It is so broad that no film can truly encompass it, and wisely Tarkovsky doesn't try. Instead he shows one man's attempt to deal with it - flawed and inadequate as it may be. This is a clever way to approach it, because it stimulates you to start thinking of what your own approach might be.

It begins in color, with Alexander, a very self involved and disconnected man in his later years who is forced by circumstances and a very odd mailman, to confront his relationship to God, and society. This causes Alexander to go through different mental states which are filmed in black and white or muted color. As the day moves forward, Alexander eventually sifts from a passive observer of life to someone who is committed to playing a dramatic but positive and active role in the spiritual and temporal life. With this new reality, the film returns to color. The composition of the sets the framing and the editing of the film all are carefully done to support and emphasize the theme and development of the film. The film takes place on one day, Alexander's birthday (yes, this does have a double meaning).

Throughout the film death is the looming and persistent presence. Near the beginning Alexander rightly observes that fear of death will drive people to do many foolish things. We see some of these foolish things as the characters of the film become unfaithful, hysterical, and even cruel and destructive when threatened by death. Tarkovsky himself was facing death by cancer when he made this film and this was his final film. In the end, however, the film is life affirming, leaving us with a view of hope and even joy.

This is a film I respect but it is not very entertaining. I am glad I watched it, but I wasn't really ready for it when I started. If you are not ready to see a film this serious and deep, then it would be easy to dismiss it as difficult and even painful to watch. But to do so would be a reaction to that same fear of death that seems to be the root of so much evil in the world. Understanding that this is a film about serious topics that effect us all and not a casual bit of entertainment can make the difference between appreciating and valuing this film or not. But even though the film had some difficult and soul searching moments, you will enjoy the end and its message of hope. The final image of the film is a young boy bringing life to a dead tree. It is a truly beautiful image and one that think will stay with me for a long time.
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SPOILERS: Kierkegaard would have loved this film
shava2327 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Read this after you see the film once, and before the second time, since this film is certainly worth seeing again!

As a woman who grew up in a spare, cold climate, I don't find the landscapes bleak. We are watching the middle of summer, with everything (but the one tree) growing and thriving. The rains are relatively gentle compared to the winter snow. The windows are open to the light breezes, and the light never leaves the sky. When it seems that disaster has struck, the fen is not panicked. The dapple of the leaves doesn't stop when the rush of planes has gone by.

By comparison, the interior shots are overly ordered and spare. The inside is Alexander's mother's garden, after Alexander prunes it. Everything is in order, and the beauty is pretty much gone. The moment order is disrupted, things fall apart. The English wife bursts into hysterics and declares she can't stand it "anymore." This is not the wail of someone who has suffered a sudden shock. This is the wail of a woman who has seen her foundation swept from beneath her, and is forced to confront her existential realities.

Otto and Maria are obviously out of place in this orderly, petty world. We know that Maria is the best kind of witch -- but what is Otto? Is he collecting the incident that happens in the house that night? Is he collecting the incident with Maria?

Kierkegaard wrote the answers to most of the questions asked, either in Sickness Unto Death, or in Fear and Loathing. Recommended reading -- if you get through this film, you can certainly get through Kierkegaard. ;)

To me this is a film that pits romanticized fertile nature against the restriction of (Christian) predestination, pits hope against despair. The Japanese found aesthetics in the most despairing circumstances, even where there was not hope. Alexander feels trapped by civilization, by his ordered and cowardly life -- yet he moves to sacrifice himself to save it...or to escape? Does he redeem his family, or remove their chance to transcend their petty patterns?

Resist taking the first part of the film as monologue -- perhaps you have never had a child? Little Man is old enough to think for himself -- he proves that by the end of the film. He has listened to every word his Papa speaks to him. His father is answering questions that the boy can't ask, or doesn't know that he should. Papa Alexander is trying to pass on what he has learned so his son might have a better chance (or, paradoxically, so his son can grow up with comfortably similar delusions?). At the end of the film, we realize that Alexander's son has questions that his Papa will never answer.

Finally, I have to note, on the closing scene -- for those of you who are not familiar with botany -- the dead tree seems to be planted head in the earth, with the dead roots in the air. It is a project out of touch with nature, and like the rest of the film it offers a prayer for a miracle, or the evidence of utter psychosis.

Now, read Kierkegaard, watch the film again, and enjoy!
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Beautiful, Powerful, Philosophical, Art at its greatest form
Rodrigo Amaro4 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Andrei Tarkovsky's swan song "Offret" ("The Sacrifice") is composed of 112 long takes and sequences, almost without any cuts, planned scenes just like a stage play with enormous acts whose dialogs are rich, powerful and filled with insights on life, death, philosophy, sacrifices. It sounds like a film directed by Ingmar Bergman and there's no secret that this was Tarkovksy paying a tribute to one of his favorite directors, filming in Bergman's famous island used as scenery in many of his films; some actors who worked with him and the habitual cinematographer Sven Nykvist are present in "Offret".

In one the finest performances ever captured on film, Erland Josephson lives the journalist Alexander, a worried man about mankind's destiny who tells to his little and mute son, called 'Little Man', about how doomed we are, but also tells him good things too, teaches him to plant a tree and all. On the day of Alexander's birthday the Third World War breaks in and this time we and the characters have the feeling that now the world really is gonna end. As last wish, Alexander pray to God wishing to have more time to live and in exchange he'll give up his family, his belongings and his house.

I don't wanna keep wavering about where the plot goes and show the thoughts I have about the film, I'll leave that to you reader. Instead, I'll keep my focus on some of the beautiful things presented here, some of my favorite moments and the physical aspect that I found interesting about "Offret".

As I said earlier, this film looks like more a work from Bergman than a work from Tarkovsky, and for the die hard fans of the Russian director might not be so appealing since he uses the visual to tell his stories in most of his classics but here he depends on dialogs and more dialogs which is quite rare in his filmography. Tarkovsky composes along with Nykvist two worlds in one: a beautiful and colorful island with green trees, a sunny place; and the devastated place with dark tons, shapes, very dreadful, creating an apocalyptical world without any kind of expensive scenarios. He uses the cinematography and a subtle and powerful special effects to destroy the world.

Here are the things I won't forget about this masterpiece: 1) Alfred's prayer, one of the most emotional and heartbreaking moments ever made, filmed in one long shot; 2) the house on fire burning down to the ground, beautifully filmed; 3) The jar of milk smashing on the floor when the planes appear showing us that the war begun; 4) The story described by the postman about his 'collection' of events; 5) Alfred's monologues about art, death, life, fear. Tarkovsky's idea flying in its fullness. 6) Alfred visiting the only one who can help him, Maria the maid of his house. 7) The desperation of Alfred's family when the world's end. 8) The first scene with Little Man and his dad planting the lonely tree (which also ends the film with Little Man's first quote), meaning the creation of life, a hint of hope. 9) the ending, absolutely perfect.

It is art and philosophy at its highest point. And it's sad that this Tarkovsky last film in the way that I really loved his change of style here, I was looking forward for more films like this but it simply didn't happened. Life was taken away from him very early but we're left with interesting and great masterpieces like this, "Stalker" and more. One of the most beautiful pictures ever made and must be included on a list of films that you can't get out of your head. 10/10
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Hard to describe.
anton-67 February 2002
This is a mind-blowing film that is very hard to say something about but I will try my best:

First of all I would like to write something about the cinematography.Sven Nykvist is of course one of the best cinematographer´s of all times and this film is so fantastic beautifully filmed.I must say that I got lost in the film sometimes and did not understood what was going on but still I tried.The best in the film is before the "war" has started.A very dark allegory over the society.

I think it´s good-but still very though and hard to understand-and I recommend it but only for people who can see this sort of things.I actually got a bit depressed of this film.

It´s very hard to describe "The Sacrifice" and I have tried my best but you must see it for yourself to understand and maybe appreciate it.
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merits a re-evaluation
chuck-52617 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The story takes place in an isolated location on the isle of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Although the island has a long semi-independent history, it has been an "official" part of Sweden for more than three centuries.

Many of my reactions to this film are the common ones: this film is "Bergmanesque", a little different from yet not discontinuous with Tarkovsky's others; the images are striking and almost overwhelmingly powerful; the film is long and slow ("stately" to say it positively), so much so some won't have the patience to even finish watching it.

I think though the story is more complex and subtle than is often stated. Supposedly the topic is a slightly off-kilter person giving up what he loves in exchange for the salvation of others as a reaction to the specter of nuclear war. After all, his life circumstances look pretty attractive to us viewers: wealthy, respected, private, and comfortable. The ominousness of the opening dialog doesn't seem warranted.

But I think it's more than that, or at least more ambiguous than that. The main character isn't just slightly off-kilter, but close to collapsing completely. His life has become unbearable. And his motives are as much about "punishment" (or even "revenge") as "sacrifice".

Why do I think that? For starters, how is it that the only people that will come to Alexander's birthday party are his doctor and his postman? That guest list sounds to me like an act of desperation, an admission that he's hit rock bottom. Alexander's wife is so neurotic even her daughter and her lover chide her. His daughter can't grow up in such an isolated place; she never sees anyone else anywhere near her age. And as far as her obvious age-appropriate interest in boys, there's nothing more than a bad joke about the postman being her beau. She flips between acting like she's ten and acting like she's thirty, with nothing in between. Alexander sleeps on the couch in his office rather than in the marital bed , and everyone acts as though that happens all the time. When he bicycles to his servant's house (or at least dreams he does), along the way he sees the doctor's empty car with his wife's shawl; clearly he's aware that his wife is having an affair with his "best friend". His servant's immediate reaction is "something terrible must have happened at home", and it's apparent this isn't the first time she's seen Alexander's home situation become intolerable. And the doctor's plan to move to Australia is a truly momentous, one-in-a-million attempt to escape forever. The doctor's calm, detached, slightly ironic bearing belies the awfulness of the words he speaks about just how dysfunctional Alexander's household is.
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The unquantifiable price of sacrifice.
Sinnerman16 November 2004
Behold, a torrential spew of superlatives; "Sacrifice captivates the heart." "Sacrifice stirs the soul" "Sacrifice devastates as well as it rehabilitates" get my drift...

An almost mythic blend of haunting imagery, rich audio cues and astounding performances, this masterwork of introspection spins a sublime poem on the conundrums of faith, unconditional love, the nature of reality and the very meaning of sacrifice. I cannot help but be moved me truly, madly, deeply.

By the time a boy rests by a lonesome tree, I realized few films will come close to injecting me with such revelatory euphoria. The Sacrifice shall be as close a religious epiphany as this "sinner" is ever gonna get. Sigh...
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The overall effect should be as important as it's premise. Possible Spoilers.
Preston-1017 September 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Pauline Kael once said that "movies took their impetus not from the desiccated, imitation European high culture, but from the peep show, the Wild West show, the music hall, the comic strip - from what was coarse and common." Andrei Tarkovsky, in his relatively short career, dismissed cinema's original intent, it's coarse nature that Pauline Kael referred to, and used cinema as a way to move the viewer to meditate on his or her spirituality. THE SACRIFICE, Andrei Tarkovsky's final film, is yet another film of Tarkovsky's brilliant catalogue, which emphasizes the importance of faith and spiritual reflection.

THE SACRIFICE is a hard film for some to figure out. Personally, there is not one film playing in the nearest theater from which I write this review that approaches the relevance that this film conveys. The movie is about a man with a lucrative career that takes some time off with some family and friends to an isolated location. He appears to be pretty well off until he gets message that war is imminent. He prays to God, in one of the most intense moments in film, and promises that if God ends the war then he will disown his family, burn his house down, and stay silent for the rest of his life. The war ends.... That's as far as I'm going to go because I want you to have the opportunity to see a film that rises above cinema. The film, however, does not reveal if God responds to the prayer. Whether he does or not is not what THE SACRIFICE is about. It's about the actions that we perform in order to be closer to God, and some people respond more intensely than others.

Great movies about spirituality are all but gone from today's cinema. Most come off as either to corny, preachy, etc ... Unlike those ridiculous exercises, THE SACRIFICE is a smart film. It's beautifully crafted, the acting is terrific, and the direction is top notch. It is a film that has moved me to reflect on my own spirituality as well, and I can truly tell you that few movies have done that to me. I really appreciate THE SACRIFICE; it is a film that has produced an important effect in my life. Now how many movies can do that?
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Disappointing end to an astonishing career.
Gary-16121 February 2000
This last film by the great Tarkovsky and seen as an article of pure faith by many, suffered from production problems, the largest being a camera jamming which resulted in the cast and crew pulling together to rebuild a set so that the film could be completed. Tarkovsky had suffered worse, not least the loss of an entire film due to a lab fault back in Russia. His chief problem was adjusting to the more formal structure of crewing in the west as opposed to the freedom afforded him back in the Soviet Union. I think the main problem affecting this film is it seems unduly influenced by Bergman and has the same cameraman. The hysterical women on the floor especially reminds me of 'Cries And Whispers'. Mimicking another's style, even one as great as Bergman's, diminished him somehow. Also, I can't pretend to understood the plot which at times seemed eccentric to the point of obtuseness and silliness, not least the rather too sudden appearance of an ambulance and the puzzling business involving a witch. Why anyone should suspose such an involvement would prevent a nuclear war is perplexing. Also the tired use of yet another levitation motif suggested Tarkovsky may have been running out of artistic steam. On the plus side there is an enigmatic soundtrack of what sounds like sheet metal work, suggesting spiritual discord perhaps?

Whether one engages with a Tarkovsky film depends on whether you identify with whatever spiritual problem his character is wrestling with. Some people are more concerned with nuclear issues than others. Some may see the sacrifice made by Otto as an inspiring spiritual one against his own interests. Certainly Tarkovsky seemed enamoured of the concept of the holy fool, weak and perhaps misguided and foolish individuals who are disenfranchised but in their lowliness somehow admirable and insightful on some matters. Others of a more secular persuasion may see Otto's sacrifice as selfish (his family being affected) and merely the pointless actions of the benighted. I'm sitting on the fence. The final sequence, which for the reasons above had to be re-shot is sadly not one of Tarkovsky's best. He has this need not to edit for the audience and prefers scenes to run to their own inner dynamic. It didn't work for me.

Tarkovsky was dying of cancer during the making of this film and the watering of the withered tree is actually an older myth, ruminated upon in his extraordinary book 'Sculpting In Time'. It is about 'the truth' as he sees it and is a Christian one. Unfortunately, I don't think this film was all it could have been but I see why it means so much to many. In my opinion he was perhaps the greatest film maker of all time and we are unlikely to see his like again. He believed that the gift of friendship was the most natural and important one to give as it is the one most open to us all.
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the soul of the artist/poet with his profound 'swan song', an elegy to life and death and the soul
MisterWhiplash14 May 2008
It is perhaps too blunt a notion that Andrei Tarkovsky's the Sacrifice bears some comparison with Ingmar Bergman's films. More than a notion, it's right up there on the screen: Erland Josephsson, one of Bergman's great collaborators, as well as Sven Nykvist (probably the best), as well as certain allusions in some of the shots (i.e. the kid in the bed in black and white seems right out of Persona). But it's also the themes being dealt with, the tone in the monologues from the characters (albeit from Josephsson and usually dealing with his faith and memories), and the sense of grief and bewilderment ala Shame. At the same time, with these allusions as well as others to the likes of Nietzche and Dostoyevsky, it's through and through the work of a filmmaker so in touch with his soul as an artist, with so much to pour into a work that has relatively little plot (not that it doesn't have a story), that it floors one.

And, in a sense, it's close to being, despite its darker intonations and its ambiguous, staggering ending of madness and hope, the director's quintessential work. While Stalker will probably stay as the artistic pinnacle of his career, the Sacrifice brings to a head many of the director's chief concerns while not possibly making them too patched together to make sense (i.e. The Mirror, which is nevertheless also great), as well as in a style that is meditative, calm, harsh, surreal, and always with the heart and mind of what leans toward the poetic. Once we get into the premise of the picture, which takes a little while itself to set up- an old man, Alexander, (Josephsson) and his family are at his home to celebrate his birthday when elsewhere a catastrophic war is going on, with the family left to their own devices out in the middle of the countryside- Tarkovsky explores the spaces that are there to see in the consciousness of men (and, to a degree, women) in a crisis of faith.

In reality, there isn't a whole lot that "happens" in the usual plot-driven sense of the Sacrifice, but within the realm of the scenes depicted and acted, there's a lot more than any other filmmaker would meet at. A visit to Maria, a "witch" in a church nearby, takes up a fairly significant chunk out of the picture, but in it is a story told by Alexander about a garden and his mother, and around this and in this scene are the details that Tarkovsky builds with. It goes without saying his genius also lies with whom he works with, and Nykvist creates such a mood for each particular scene (sometimes the light or look of a scene will fade just a little, and everything will change, however subtly, for an instant), and such a delicate, brooding nature with the camera as it tracks along in Tarkovsky's carefully lined long takes, that it ranks up there with his very best pieces with Bergman.

But at the same time, as the director mixes in black and white footage, slow-motion of a character running down a hall, a tilt up some mud and nature, a sense of time and place and horror is depicted, honestly, without the problems with usually pretentious visionaries. And as it was that Tarkovsky knew that he was dying- unlike other filmmakers who fade out after their last picture or die unexpectedly- there's a sense of self-reflection, as it comes out with Alexander and in those around him, that is sad but ultimately poignant to the highest order. Questions are raised that can hardly be answered, but one of the chief ones has the ring of naiveté until it's known that it's this particular instance it's raised: is there no hope for the spirit? What about the boy, however, might also be another sort of question, as we see the final shot starting on the boy and raising up ever so gently up the tree with the music playing on.

All these and more can be raised from the Sacrifice (not to mention, of course, what does it mean to really sacrifice oneself), but it's besides all of that just a truly rich cinematic experience, one that's so rich that it's hard to take it all in all at once. It has the sustainability of its artistic force to not have the danger of growing 'dated'; to make a more leap with some grandeur perhaps, as with a poem or some renaissance painting (not far off from the Leonardo featured in the film), the Sacrifice asks to be revisited, to have the experience of the thoughts and ideas poised, and for the amazing performances and technical work. It's one of the true masterpieces of the 1980s.
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another cliché for self-absorbed miserable humorless intellectuals
Doctor-T-19 February 2008
I love Nykvist's always spellbinding cinematography, and I have liked some other Tarkovsky films, I had no problem with the slow pace or empty shots, actually would have like the whole thing better with none of those annoying people in it. But sorry, I can only explain the misplaced reverence for this film as credit for his earlier work, and respect as his career and life was ending. However, this film is the kind of thing that has made "intellectual" a dirty word in the US. Just what we need - more artful glorification of the cliché that being an intellectual means being a spoiled rotten self-absorbed, self-pitying terminally miserable humorless neurotic, who has it all but does nothing but desperately search for reasons to feel sorry for himself. This film asks deep questions? Sorry but I was only 12 when my intellect questioned and rejected the ridiculous idea of a "loving" all powerful god getting sadistic kicks from demanding "sacrifices". This film limply accepts that lame-brained dark-ages scam of religious oppression with a whimper. But why not when the sacrifice involves every old rich white guy's fantasy of banging his hot young maid! Some sacrifice! Of course he manages to turn even that into a downer - sheesh! Can't be an "art" movie without a topless maid! Class oppression - even making the maids wear uniforms in the 20th Century - is another sickening idea that is accepted without comment or critique. The idea of there being some eco-idealistic message in burning a house is also silly as hell. He obviously had no problem owning a house that would take the energy use of a small country to heat. Guess it doesn't matter if it impresses the neighbors. And people say this is about teaching the next generation to do better? Are you kidding? It's sad that there's an art-house audience for such pap, when Greenaway can't even get a release in the US these days. So... this is the film for you if you're no longer satisfied with depressive navel gazing, and you're so desperate for miserable self-absorption that you'll bend over and stare at your own anus, so then you can complain that something smells bad, and you have a backache too.
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To fully understand this film; you need to know a few things about Russians
artisticengineer7 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
POSSIBLE SPOILER: A Western viewer needs to know a few things about Russians to fully understand the meaning and significance of this film. One item of particular significance is the magnitude and nature of war. The film states that a nuclear conflict of some sort (limited or unlimited is not clear) is imminent or has already started. Certainly the noise and vibrations due to the noise of the jets flying overhead indicates that war is about to break out. Now, war damage is actually something of an abstract meaning to Americans; all of the battles fought by our military in the wars of the 20th century were in far off places. Though there were exceptions with Pearl Harbor, the torpedoing of merchant ships of the coast of the United States during the early days of WWII, and of course the events of Sept. 11, 2001 the truly great battles were elsewhere and people who lived in the center of our country, in the countryside such as shown in this movie, were not directly affected or attacked. Now, nuclear war would probably bring about death and destruction even to the Heartland of the United States but that is hard to grasp for most Americans as this sort of war has never happened.

However, the Russians (or Soviets at the time of the making of this film) did suffer tremendous destruction throughout their country in WWII. And, this destruction did affect most of these people. In fact, wars in the past before WWI and WWII (such as during the Napoleonic era) have also caused terrible destruction in Russia. So, to the Russian viewing this movie, the terror shown by the actors is very well understood. War to the Russian is not generally sending troops across oceans to fight but rather fighting the enemy in one's front yard.

The other matter that a Western viewer needs to know to understand this movie is the very superstitious nature of the Russian people. I had long thought that the most superstitious country in the world was probably somewhere in Africa or the Caribbean. It may be, but the most superstitious country with any sort of development is undoubtedly Russia. Those people are very sincere in their belief in Astrology and any other superstition that they have ever heard of. The movie is not being factitious when a woman is cited as being a witch. They still believe in such people in Russia, though the nature of witchcraft there is somewhat different than the traditional depiction of a witch in the West. And, quite a few employers in the former Soviet Union probably believes that one of their servant women could be a witch.

And, most people in Russia could believe (for the sake of the film) that a witch MIGHT actually be able to do something to stop a war. Who the witch is and what, if anything, she can do in this case is something you have to see the movie to find out. Sufficient to say though, that belief in the supernatural is still quite common in Russia, and must be taken into account when seeing this film.
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Recording Place
Fredrik Larsson23 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
One of the places where the movie was recorded is a little half-island just a mile from my parents home, on the east side of an island called Gotland in Sweden, the surface on the half-island doesn't look like any other place in the surroundings.

It has almost no trees or bushes and all groundings are small stones made by the nature, with perhaps some square-meters of green grass. When the movie was recorded i was there with my grandfather and there was nice to see a live recording when you are about 12 years of age and never been close to something similar.

Unfortunaly when they was about to burn down the house they experienced some heavy rain, so they had to build up the house twice, if i remember my history correct. We where there when they did the first shooting and it was very muddy and hard for them to move around the cameras in the dirt.
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My first Tarkovsky... still in awe.
ThinManJones11 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
From the gentle beginning to the harrowing yet satisfying end, this film commanded me with an inexorable pull in its sublime images. In what extent this depended on the collaboration with the Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, I wouldn't really know. Suffice to say that I deeply admired Nykvist's work in such Bergman films as "Jungfrukällan", "Nattvardsgästerna" and "Fanny och Alexander"; after viewing Tarkovsky's "Offret" this admiration has turned into a kind of love I normally reserve for separate movies or perhaps actors. The shot near the end with the burning house and Alexander running around in delirium is to die for: it's unbelievably beautiful, and still hauntingly terrifying in its destructiveness. I would watch this film only for its visual (and aural) qualities and still be happy just to absorb the bleached art of the cinematography and the meticulous mise-en-scène.

Of course, this would all be somewhat shallow and empty if Tarkovsky had nothing more to offer. Thankfully, "Offret" has enough depth, spirituality and pathos to do its visual virtuosity justice, and even with energy to spare. Though many of Tarkovsky's cinematic elements are mystifying, they can be enjoyed and provide epiphanies on different levels of the mind and spirit, much like music (Bach not the least, exemplified by the perfect choice of opening and closing piece from the St. Matthew's Passion). The slow and elaborate pacing only heightens the tension and is necessary for this sort of cathartic journey.

But for some scenes in the middle where it stumbles and just plods along for a while, "Offret" is in my mind perfect. Watch the suggestive movement of the ethereal curtains in the little boy's room, like divine breathing from without (or within?). Notice the exactness in the moving and placing of characters in a room to achieve symmetry, seamlessly done with flowing naturality. This is art done by a master, and the world seems a lesser place without him.
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