It is Alexander’s (Erland Josephson) birthday. Once an accomplished actor, he has abandoned the theatre to concentrate on journalism and a career lecturing in aesthetics. He lives by the sea; in a house he shares with his wife Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood), stepdaughter Marta (Filippa Franzen) and ‘Little Man’, his young son who has been rendered temporarily mute following a throat operation. Alexander muses on the past, and describes his relationship with God as non-existent, but the thundering of fighter jets flying low above their house is about to shake Alexander out of his reverie. When a news programme announces an impending nuclear holocaust, Alexander promises God that he will sacrifice everyone he loves if the crisis can be averted. When his friend Otto, who dabbles in parapsychology, tells Alexander that his maid Maria is a witch, and that he should sleep with her, Maria takes her confused employer into her bed. But as they lie together, and the bed begins to revolve and float inexplicably up into the air, the seeds of Alexander’s undoing have already been sown. Alexander is about to sacrifice everything he possesses.
The Sacrifice was Andrei Tarkovsky’s last film, and it is a true testament to his genius as a filmmaker. With its theatrical misé en scene and languorous pacing, it feels more like a collection of very delicate character studies than a complete narrative, a tone which is set from the opening scene, when the father and son plant a tree beside the beach and Alexander monologues about how he and Adelaide first discovered their lovely house. As with all of Tarkovsky’s films, The Sacrifice is beautiful to look at, with moments that are eerily disconcerting – the brief black and white flashbacks especially. And the nervy pre-coital meeting between Alexander and Maria, and the scenes that follow, are masterpieces of cinema.
Curzon’s two-disc presentation includes an audio commentary by Layla Alexander-Garrett and, on disc two, a fascinating glimpse inside Andrei Tarkovsky’s Metaphysical Dream Zone. This is exquisite filmmaking, and very highly recommended.
THE SACRIFICE (1986) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ANDREI TARKOVSKY / STARRING: ERLAND JOSEPHSON, SUSAN FLEETWOOD, FILIPPA FRANZEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW