Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Sacrifice (Andrey Tarkovskiy, 1986)

There are two outstanding moments that keep the The Sacrifice — Tarkovsky’s final film — upright and help explain what it is all about. It is quite beyond my capacity as a film analyst, at this moment, to describe this film of Tarkovsky, and nor can I suggest whether you’d like him or not. But I can at least say what he means to me. The film opens with a withdrawn shot of a father and son planting a barren tree in open farmland. The father is thinking aloud, blathering without direction; the boy is glum, diligent and mute. They secure a dwindled tree into the ground, and the father talks about the need to water it every day, before the scene moves on to esoteric subjects (for most of us) Nietszche, God, and haphazard cyclists. The scene lasts for around nine minutes and yet somehow its opening moment lasts for even longer. The image of a man brazenly planting a withered tree in the middle of nowhere — it’s Tarkovsky at his enigmatic best. The camera lingers and you notice the tree, the man, fields, a path, the sea, a hut; suddenly a multitude of material — be it massive or minute –unveils itself to your wandering eye. And you’re given the time to explore it. The camera doesn’t cut or move. It just shows, resolutely, knowingly.The Sacrifice is Tarkovsky’s sacrifice, and so are the rest of his films. Beautiful, obstinate and difficult. Tarkovsky’s films are all about the image — not the word or the narrative — and they frequently reveal the great amount of exertion behind their makeup. Each image is carefully cultivated to become an element unto itself — infinitely more variegated than a word, and more sacred than a sermon. At the end of The Sacrifice, the young boy sits beneath his now departed father’s tree and breaks his silence with damning effect; “In the beginning there was the word” he says. “Why is that, Papa?”.The effect is, I think, massively empowering. There’s space for the viewer’s imagination here, a suggestion almost anathema to the majority of films that reach our cinemas and televisions today.

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