Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nostalghia(1983):dreams, visions, longing

Director:Andrei Tarkovsky(1932-86);Language;Russian/Italian; Duration: 124 minutes 

My third Tarkovsky film. The most magical. If you are looking for an entertainer to go with your pop-corn and coke, this may not be the best option. But if you are willing to invest two hours of patience and suspend all judgement (lack of plot, translucency of theme and intention) you may  carry home imprints of the sublime and ethereal.

To start, the title Nostalghia is not a mispelling. To quote Tarkovsky(, ):
"The title of the film, for which the word "nostalgia" is only a very insufficient translation, indicates a pining for what is far from us, for worlds that cannot be united. But it is also indicative of a longing for an inner home, some inner sense of belonging....."

In other words nostalghia here stands for an overpowering, painfully beautiful, nameless yearning rising from the depths of life, a disabling sense of emptiness and loss. In the film this feeling is symbolised by an expatriot Russian's pining for his Russian family and home, oblivious to the beauty that surrounds him in Italy.

Gortchakoff is a Russian scholar staying in Italy with the aim of studying the life of a seventeenth century Russian composer who chose to return to serfdom in Russia rather than enjoy acclaim in Italy. After his return he took to alcohol and commited suicide. Tarkovsky too was an exile from the USSR when he was making this film and had to leave his son behind. Hence the film is in essence intensely autobiographical. In Italy, Gortchakoff is overtaken by the eponymous emotion and is oblivious to the ravishing beauties of the Italian countryside, historical buildings, ramshackle dwellings and the Petrarchan beauty and advances of his translator companion, the beautiful Eugenia. The other important character is Domenico, a madman-seer in whose single minded convictions and faith Gortchakoff finds a mirror of his own state of life.

In the final famous scene of the film we find him engaged in the  carrying a lighted candle across an ancient Roman bath, a somewhat difficult task( taking eight minutes and which has exhausted the patience of many a Tarkovskite though in the spiritual context, it ought to be as exciting, say, as the chariot race in Ben Hur).

The imagery is of a breath taking beauty like a brew of ancient vintage. Ghostly Russian countrysides glimpsed through a half open door, women at prayer amidst a myriad dancing candle flames, worn Roman corridors flanked by pillars, and the last transcendental image of the Russian homeland which is similar to that earthly island floating on the planet Solaris--it is paint, it is  poem, it is  lens, it is soul.

Tarkovsky is a philosopher. He is a man with a vision. He sense not only the incompleteness of modern man, but also his capacity for completeness.

Tarkovsky is a voice from the future. It's a voice of the spirit, a voice for faith. The candle carrying scene is an act of spiritual assertion.

Man can become a human being.

To quote from again:
"The only meaning of life lies in the effort that is demanded in growing spiritually, to change and develop into something different than what we were at birth. If we during the span of time between birth and death can achieve this, in spite of the fact that it is difficult and that progress may seem slow at times, then we have indeed served humanity."


Literary Dreamer said...

Or, to quote a Russian composer (Modest Mussorgsky), Tarkovsky "believes in the future because he lives in the future."

S. M. Rana said...

@Literary Dreamer

Thanks. A readership of one is ample impetus to continue.

Your quote touches the essence.Tarkovsky is indeed a Utopian. Hope is at the centre of his vision.

I am temted to quote Daisaku Ikeda:

Hope transforms pessimism into optimism. Hope is invincible. Hope changes everything. It changes winter into summer, darkness into dawn, descent into ascent, barrenness into creativity, agony into joy. Hope is the sun. It is light. It is passion. It is the fundamental force for life's blossoming.