Some call Judge Daryl Loomis crazy, but his dog tells him to ignore them.
Of course you want to be happy, but there are more important things.
For a director whose name carries so much weight, one would think that Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) would have made more movies. But before he died at 54 years old, he only produced eight features over a near-thirty year span. Still, his influence is profound and resonates strongly today, especially in the modern work of Czech and Romanian filmmakers, but he's also one of the most beguiling directors in history. His movies are incredibly slow; rarely does much of consequence actually happen in them, but yet they're works of undeniable power and beauty. Both of those sides have never been more apparent than in Nostalghia, his first movie outside of the Soviet Union and absolutely the most personal film of his career.
Facts of the Case
Andrei (Oleg Yankovsky, The Kreutzer Sonata) is a Russian writer who has travelled to Italy to research the period when an 18th Century composer lived there and, upon his return to Moscow, promptly killed himself. There with his assistant and sometimes lover, Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano, Interview with a Vampire), he finds himself disconnected with his surroundings and unable to reconcile them with his homeland, which he thinks about constantly. Soon, he meets Domenico (Erland Josephson, Ulysses' Gaze), a madman who is shunned by society, but who is the only one capable of putting Andrei on the right spiritual path.
There is this concept that runs throughout Nostalghia that is best illustrated by the absurd equation that's written on the wall of Domenico's dilapidated shack: "1+1=1." He explains this to Andrei with a drop of olive oil. If one adds another drop, it doesn't become two drops. Instead, it's still one drop that is larger than before. One can argue the semantic point, but for the purposes of Andrei's spiritual journey, it's the perfect metaphor.
Nostalghia is the first movie that Tarkovsky made outside of the Soviet Union. After going to Italy to film his documentary Voyage in Time, he decided to stay, abandoning his homeland forever. The parallels here are obvious and, thus, this is by far his most personal film and one of his most difficult. It takes quite a long time for that scene to occur; once it does, the whole thing coalesces and his spiritual path becomes a whole lot clearer. Before that, everything beyond Andrei's strict reason for being in Italy is completely opaque.
We do get some clues that help us along, though. Tarkovsky makes heavy use of flashbacks, as nearly stationary black-and-white images of his Russian farm, cut into his wanderings around Italy. Through all of it, we start to learn about the caustic relationship between Andrei and Eugenia and Andrei's sense of loss and pain about being away from his home. Meeting Domenico, there's no immediate feeling that he'd play such a pivotal role in Andrei's journey, but soon he's the only person who matters.
In a career of slow-burning movies, Nostalghia might just take the cake. So often, the scenes are completely stationary, or with just one or two people moving within the frame. Long shots of water dropping and sparse, oblique conversations seemingly about nothing all built together to create something completely immersive. And it wouldn't seem like there would no tension in the story as a result, but the opposite is in fact the case. By the time we've followed Andrei around for two hours and he's at his final test set for to him by Domenico, not only was I completely on board, but his completion of the task feels like a genuine accomplishment. His old world and his new world can then become one and it results in the plainly brilliant final shot that brings the two together at once. It's the perfect capper to one of the finest works of Andrei Tarkovsky's career.
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray for Nostalghia isn't one of their best efforts, but it does the job. The 1.66:1/1080p transfer delivers an image far better than in previous releases, though it's still not perfect. The detail is good and what passes for colors in this heavily monochrome movie are realistic, but dirt and dust are persistent on the print. It's not particularly distracting, but it's definitely noticeable and it's clear that it could look even better. The sound is cleaner, though, with a 2-channel lossless PCM mix. It's quiet and low-key, just like the rest of the movie, but there's decent dynamic range, the dialog is always clear, and the music is nice and bright in the mix. No extras on the disc beyond a trailer, which is disappointing, but so it goes.
It's easy to get used to watching movies purely as entertainment, so it's a good refresher to watch a director who thinks about cinema purely as art. Nostalghia is a deeply personal and totally insular piece of work; sometimes, those things make the narrative slow to a crawl. By the end of the movie, though, it has become such an immersive and satisfying experience that you could spend all day in this world. Sadly, he'd only make one more feature before his death, but if there ever was a movie to express the isolation of an old man in a new place, this is it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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