A subtly ravishing passage through the halls of time and memory, this sublime reflection on twentieth-century Russian history by Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) is as much a poem composed in images, or a hypnagogic hallucination, as it is a work of cinema. In a richly textured collage of varying film stocks and newsreel footage, the recollections of a dying poet flash before our eyes, his dreams mingling with scenes of childhood, wartime, and marriage, all imbued with the mystical power of a trance. Largely dismissed by Soviet critics on its release because of its elusive narrative structure, Mirror has since taken its place as one of the director’s most renowned and influential works, a stunning personal statement from an artist transmitting his innermost thoughts and feelings directly from psyche to screen.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror makes its debut into The Criterion Collection through this new double-disc Blu-ray edition, the film presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on the first dual-layer disc. Criterion’s 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 2K restoration performed by Mosfilm, in turn scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Similar to other recent restorations by Mosfilm, specifically colour films like Stalker and Come and See, Mirror’s is a striking one. Like those other films colours are a bit muted, with greens, grays, blues, and browns seeming to be dominant—which I guess is how the film is supposed to look—but they’re rendered very well. Blacks are also pretty sharp, looking rich a deep, still allowing for strong shadow detail. There are black-and-white sequences, some with a sepia touch (again, I assume this is correct, as these aspects seem to always differ between releases for Tarkovsky's films), and they provide nice contrast and grayscale.
The restoration has cleaned things up spectacularly; outside of some archival footage that is edited into a handful of sections within the film, I don’t recall any damage ever popping up. The digital presentation is mostly solid, the film having a nice film texture, rendering the film’s fine grain structure superbly and, in turn, delivering an extraordinary amount of detail, the film’s photography looking just spectacular. There are a handful of hiccups, though, which are ultimately minor but noticeable. The opening logos are a macroblocking mess, heavily patchy with severe banding. This could be an issue with what Mosfilm has supplied as the image drastically corrects itself after these opening logos, but there are a handful of shots that also come off a bit noisy, like a close-up of a child’s face (during military training) showing a buzzy pattern around the freckles on his face.
Outside of those things, which are ultimately minor, the image is strong. It’s a gorgeous looking film and the high-def presentation serves it well.
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack ends up being an absolutely wonderful surprise. The narration can come off a little flat but the rest of the dialogue has some excellent depth and fidelity behind it. The film’s music sounds great, but the stand-out elements all revolve around the film’s general sound design and sound effects work, all of which features some stunning clarity and range. There’s a wonderful ethereal quality to all of it.
Criterion packs on a wealth of material onto this two-disc set, starting things off on the first disc with the 102-minute documentary Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer, made in 2019. Through photos, film clips, archival footage, interviews with the director, and a narrator reading Tarkovsky’s notes and/or poems, the film looks at the filmmaker’s life and the influences that developed his spiritualism and how that ends up translating through his work. The documentary also manages to offer glimpses into the productions of his films, but it is more of a portrait of the man that ends up being stylistically similar to Mirror: though it has a clearer narrative structure (so to speak) it feels like a series of memories flashing before us, with a heavy sense of nostalgia from the director of the documentary, Tarkovsky’s son Andrei A. Tarkovsky. It’s an effective portrait of the man and his work and is a must-watch for any admirer of Tarkovsky’s work.
The remaining supplements are all found on the second dual-layer disc, starting with a new 54-minute documentary around the film, Dream in the Mirror, featuring interviews with filmmakers Alexandr Gordon and Dmitri Salynsky, composer Eduard Artemyev, scholars Vida T. Johnson, Vladimir Golstein, Kitty Hunter-Blair and Mark Le Fanu, translators Stephanie Sandler and Layla Alexander-Garrett, and Marina Tarkovsky, sister to Andrei Tarkovsky. The documentary not only chronicles the film's production but it also examines its narrative structure and layering, its editing, use of archival material, its autobiographical aspects, and its themes. Interestingly, Tarkovsky saw the film as his Amarcord ("only better" as he apparently said) and though he intended it to be a reflection of him, he realized later it was actually more about his own mother. There are even details (including interview footage with the director) about the issues that arose with the censors and academics in the country, though the film still managed to get released and audiences apparently reacted well to it. The feature has a dreamy quality all its own, but it offers a rather clear account of its production along with some invaluable insights into the film itself.
Criterion also includes a new 22-minute interview with composer Eduard Artemyev (who also appears in the previous documentary) to talk about his work with Tarkovsky. Though a composer, Tarkovsky would usually use other numbers (like ones by Bach) in his films so Artemyev was ultimately behind the film's "sound design" (a term that didn't exist at the time), coming up with ways to apply specific sounds in creative ways, sometimes in a musical way. He not only talks about the sound design of this film, but he also gets into details about key scenes in some of Tarkovsky's other films, like the highway scene in Solaris, or the trolley scene in Stalker.
The rest of the material is archival in nature. There is a 52-minute Russian television program from 2007 about cinematographer Georgi Rerberg. Though it is a career retrospective, it spends a decent amount of time on his work with Tarkovsky on both Mirror and Stalker. On the latter film he and Tarkosky had a falling out on how the film should look and Rerberg was replaced, though Takovsky apparently ended up using some of his suggestions. Two of Rerberg's shots are also said to remain in the finished film.
Criterion ports over a 32-minute interview with screenwriter Alexander Misharin, recorded for the Mosfilm DVD. This one is incredibly dry, unfortunately, and I'm not sure how much of what he says about their partnership can be taken at face value (I get the feeling he is exaggerating some things and holding back a bit on others). He ends up going through their work together, Mirror getting covered last. There are also two French television interviews with Tarkovsky himself, both filmed days from one another in 1976, running 4-minutes and over 3-minutes each, Tarkovsky speaking through French translators. In the first he explains how the film connects to poetry and that the film is indeed autobiographical, while the second features him explaining how he makes films to just make films, money and profit never coming into it. The interviews are both good (and it's great to see interviews with the man, as they appear to be hard to come by), but the second segment devotes a good chunk of its running time to a clip from Mirror, the scene around the cockerel.
The two discs are then packed in a nice looking digipak (that is very snug) with an 88-page booklet. There is an essay on the film by Carmen Gray, but the real gem here is what I guess could be called a treatment, of sorts, for Mirror, described as a "literary" script for the film written by Tarkovsky and Misharin. This version is noted to have been abandoned when the Soviet censors objected to it, Tarkovsky then going on to do Solaris, coming back to the project afterwards. It reads more like a novella, though with cinematic notes and such. It differs from the finished film but there are some similarities, and it has that stream-of-conscious feel to it.
All-around Criterion has put together one hell of an edition for the film, providing an incredibly comprehensive look at the film's development, at Tarkovsky's creative process, and at the man himself. It's probably the most satisfying edition that Criterion has yet put together for one of his films.
A superb edition put together by Criterion, sporting a sharp looking presentation and some incredible supplementary material. One of their best editions so far this year.