There is an argument that first and foremost a film must entertain its audience. Whatever the genre or style, it could be said that if a film fundamentally fails to do that then it has not justified the reason for its creation. There is a counter argument that filmmaking is an art form, to be judged as you would a painting or piece of music, and how much it entertains you is secondary to how it makes you feel. A little pretentious? Perhaps, but if there was ever a filmmaker that exemplified the latter more than any other it was Andrei Tarkovsky.
Less a director, more a purveyor of sensory experience, Tarkovsky dealt with metaphysical themes captured in long, elongated takes often comprising patiently contrived panning shots. Scenes of exceptional beauty often sat uncomfortably next to recurring motifs of rain or fire – on regular occasions indoors – with memory and childhood usually becoming prominent. Tarkovsky’s penultimate feature, Nostalgia, contained all these familiar traits and more, and is possibly the great auteur’s most personal film.
Following the Russian poet Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovskiy) as he explores a barren, rural Italy, Nostalgia deals primarily with loss and longing. Made soon after Tarkovsky left his native Soviet Union for the last time, this is a film where every major character is unsettled, constantly searching for something without truly knowing what that something is. For his part, Gorchakov appears terminally ill with homesickness, his wife appearing in starkly captured black and white scenes that seem a lifetime away from where the poet currently resides both physically and spiritually. Nothing about Gorchakov is clearly defined, his only real connection coming through a chance meeting with local crazy man Domenico, a man also out of step with reality for his own, very personal reasons.
All this comes back to that initial debate about film. In truth, very little actually happens in Nostalgia. The two men share what little plot there is, their individual arcs dividing towards a finale that is both strangely similar yet wholly different. Those long panning shots are as prevalent here as in any of Tarkovsky’s work, rewarding the patient viewer with extraordinary detail yet frustrating equally as the director seems intent on stylised repetition.
There is no doubt, however, that Nostalgia is a work of cinematic art, and one that should be seen. It may not entertain you – it may even test the limits of your commitment and make you instead want to reach for the latest Marvel release. Persevere, and what Nostalgia will do is occasionally astonish you. There are moments of such inspiration and vision that it becomes difficult to believe they were conceived by just one man. Whatever your stance, there are not many films you can say that about.
NOSTALGIA (1983) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ANDREI TARKOVSKY / SCREENPLAY: ANDREI TARKOVSKY, TONINO GUERRA / STARRING: OLEG YANKOVSKIY, ERLAND JOSEPHSON, DOMIZIANA GIORDANO, PATRIZIA TERRENO, DELIA BOCCARDO / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 19TH