Zerkalo (The Mirror) (1975) 





Director:     Andrey Tarkovskiy.

Starring:     Margarita Terekhova (Natalya / Maroussia - the Mother),  Oleg Yankovskiy (The Father),  Filipp Yankovsky (Aleksei - 5-years-old),  Ignat Daniltsev (Ignat / Aleksei - 12-year-old),  Nikolai Grinko (Printery Director),  Alla Demidova (Lisa),  Yuriy Nazarov (Military trainer),  Anatoli Solonitsyn (Forensic doctor),  Larisa Tarkovskaya (Nadezha - Mother of 12-y-o Alexei),  Tamara Ogorodnikova (Nanny / Neighbour / Strange woman at the tea table),  Yuri Sventisov (Yuri Zhary),  Tamara Reshetnikova,  Innokenti Smoktunovsky (Aleksei, voice),  Arseni Tarkovsky (Father, voice),  E. Del Bosque (A Spaniard).

 life in the Ukraine following WWII with an intermixture of drama and documentary footage



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 


A boy who has a stuttering problem practices speaking with a tutor.  With great difficulty he says his name is Yuri Zhary and that he is from Kharkov, Ukraine.  He goes to a technical school. 

Mother is sitting on a fence railing smoking a cigarette.  Her name is Marousia. 

The narrator says that his family's farm was near  the town of Ignatievo.  The road bends by the farm and goes on to Tomshino.  They lived on the farm each summer before WWII.   A man comes walking up to Marousia asking if he is going the right way for Tomshino?  She tells him that he shouldn't have turned at the bush down there.  He says he's a doctor and he does have a doctor type bag with him.  He says he forgot his key and was wondering if she had something to open ups his case?  She says no. 

He asks her for a cigarette and she gives him one.  Then he asks her why is she so sad?  He sits on the fence near her and the fence just breaks and both people are thrown onto the ground behind them.  He has a good laugh at this.  He gets up and tells the woman that she should come to Tomshino sometime because they have some good times there.  He walks back toward the road.  He stops half way between the fence and the bush and looks back.  He stands there for quite some time, but eventually leaves. 

She brings her two children into the house.  They have very short hair on the top of their head, like they had there heads shaven recently.  The three of them hear a commotion outside.  It's their neighbors Dounya and Pasha. Mother comes to the children and says it's a fire.  The children are thrilled about the fire and rush over to see it.  The wife asks about Vitya being in the blazing house.  And where's Klanya?  Dad calls for Klanya.  He comes from Marousia's house outside. 

There's a scene in black and white of water pouring into the house from seemingly everywhere.  Part of the ceiling starts falling down.  An old lady comes up to the mirror and wipes off the water on it so she can see herself better.

Alexei answers the phone.  It's his mother Marousia calling him.  He says he just had a dream about mother.  He asks her what year was it when dad left us?  1935.  He asks her if she remembers the big fire in the hay-loft?  She says that was also in 1935.  She tells Alexei that her friend Lisa died.  They worked together in the printing house.  He asks his mother why do they always fight with each other?  Suddenly the connection is broken. 

"Printing-house..  Next stop:  Serpukhovskaya."   Through the pouring rain, mother runs to the printing house. She goes inside and asks a young woman where are the proofs she was reading?  The woman goes for some help, saying that Yelizaveta Pavlovna is here.  A woman comes in and walks over to mother saying:  "Marousia, what's wrong?"  Is it something about the proofs for the Goslit edition?  Marousia says that they should look in the typesetting case and off the three women go.  The young woman says:  "It's such an important edition!"  She even starts crying. 

They go through the printing presses area and then into the typesetting area.  Marousia grabs some papers off a shelf and a manager asks if there is something wrong?  Marousia says she is just checking to see if she got something wrong.  She finds a place to sit by a window and starts leafing through the material.  She gets up with the material in her hands and starts walking out of the room.  Marousia goes back to her own desk and starts crying.  Yelizaveta asks her why is she crying?  After all, there was no mistake.  Apparently, Marousia is crying from relief that there was no mistake. 

The manager comes over with some alcohol to see if this would help calm Marousia down.  She says she is going to take a shower and comb her hair.  Yelizaveta says that Marousia looks like Maria Timofeyevna.  Marousia asks who is this person?  She was the sister of Captain Lebyadkin.  Yelizaveta thinks again and doesn't want to say who this Maria was.  But Marousia wants to know.  So her friend tells her that Maria would get beaten by her brother if she asked him for something as simple as a glass of water.  She says Marousia only presents an "appearance" of independence.  She wonders why her husband didn't run away from her earlier than he did.  Yelizaveta goes on to accuse her:  "You just made up this whole situation!"  Furthermore:  "As for your children, you will definitely make them miserable."

Marousia is mad now.  She picks up her stuff and starts walking to the shower area.  Her friend comes running after her.  Marousia goes inside the shower room and locks the door behind her.  Her friend tries to talk to "Masha" but Masha only shouts:  "Leave me alone!" 

Marousia is in the shower (brief nudity) and the water is suddenly shut off.  She tries to figure out what's wrong.  She can't do anything about the water, so she leans up against the shower wall and starts laughing. 

Alexia repeats that his ex-wife Natalya looks like his mother.  Natalya says maybe that's why they divorced.  She adds:  "I notice with horror how much Ignat is becoming like you."  He says whenever he thinks of his mother he sees Natalya's face.  Alexie says that he has the same pity for his mother as he has for his wife. Natalya says that Alexie always demands things.  Alexie replies:  "That's because I was brought up by women."  Natalya asks him why he never made up with his mother?  After all, it was Alexie's fault.  Her ex-husband says that his mother thought she could manage his life better than he himself could.  He adds that he knows that he is growing more and more distant from his mother, but there's nothing he can do about it. 

Alexie tells Natalya  to please tell the Spaniard to stop talking about Spain and the bullfights he has seen.  Natalya asks her ex  if he could take Ignat for a week, because they are redecorating at their house.  The Spaniard's daughter starts dancing in the traditional flamenco style.  Dad slaps her saying:  "Are you mocking us or what?  We taught you and taught you and it was of no use.  Now it turns out you can!"

Natalya asks:  "Luisa, did you ever want to go back to Spain?"    She says she can't go because she has a Russian husband and Russian children.  She gets up and starts to leave.  Luis grabs a jacket and leaves.  Natalya chases after her.  (This is set against film footage of civil war scenes in Spain that led to the Franco dictatorship.)

Mother says goodbye to her son Ignat. 

He opens a door and finds a woman sitting at a table having some coffee and cookies.  She asks him to read some passages out of a book, which he does.  The doorbell rings and Ignat goes to answer it.  It's an old woman who apologizes, saying she has the wrong address.  When he comes back to the kitchen, the woman is gone. 

Ignat receives a call from his father.  Dad says he can invite some kids over to the house.  Does he know any girls?  Ignat says not really.  Dad tells him that at Ignat's age now, he had a big crush on a red-headed girl. 

A sort of drill instructor tells a young fellow named Markov that he is going to send him back to his parents.  But Markov's parents were killed in the siege of Leningrad.  The young fellow pulls out of his satchel a grenade.  Someone pulls the pin out of it and Markov rolls down the hill to the firing range where he throws the grenade close to the instructor.  The instructor dives for the floor.  The grenade does not go off.  Markov explains that it was a dummy grenade.  The instructor doesn't really say much at all to Markov. 

There is footage of scenes from WWII, including the mushroom cloud of the explosion of the atomic bomb. 

There are scenes from the Cultural Revolution in China with many people with their little red books in their hands. 

A man in a military uniform asks Marousia where are the children?  Dad goes outside and yells for Marina.  The two children run as fast as they can to their father. 

Natalya says that her husband could have come more often so the kids could see him more.   Alexei tells Natalya that he wants Ignat to live with him.  Natalya wants to keep him.  Dad asks if Alexi would want to come live with him?  No, says Alexei. 

Natalya says that what Alexei's mother needs is for Alexei to become a baby again, so she can carry and protect him. 

Natalya asks Alexei should she marry the man or not?  She says no, Alexei does not know the fellow.  He asks if the fellow is Ukrainian, but Natalya says it doesn't matter.  The fellow is a writer.

Alexei says he keeps having the same dream that he's a child again and once again happy because everything possible lay ahead of him.  He tries to open the door to his home.

Mom and Ignat visit a woman on a farm.  She tells the woman that she is Matvey Ivanov's stepdaughter.  He was a friend of the woman's husband.  The lady asks, what Matvey?  It appears that she does not know the name.  While talking, Natalya says that they are from Moscow, but now they have a room in Yurievets.  "We were evacuated last fall.  The air raids on Moscow began and I have two kids."

The woman finally invites them inside.  Natalya says that she actually came to ask the woman something.  Ignat stays in the living room so the women can go into another room and chat. The boy's name is Aloysha.  The woman says she has a child.  The boy is sleeping. A little later, the woman has Natalya kill a chicken for supper.  Natalya does it and seems almost proud of herself.  She has the strangest look on her face.   Natalya decides not to stay for supper.  She says they have a two-hour walk ahead of them. 

Alexei is in bed with some kind of illness.  He says he will be alright. 

Alexei and Natalya are together laying on the grass outside the old fence on the farm.  He asks her if she wants a boy or a girl? 

Alexei and his sister go walking through the field with their grandmother.


I must admit that I am unsure about the meaning of this film.  It's hard to follow.  But that's because it's one of the artsy movies driven more by art than history.  A man is about to die and he is thinking back upon his life.  He had a bad relationship with his mother, but it's not exactly clear what the reasons were for this.  The movie is confusing because the man's mind doesn't play out the images in chronological order.  He thinks about this random memory and then that random memory.  The dying man's marriage was probably hurt by his poor relationship with his mother.  And then Alexei's relationship with his own son gets messed up too.  And it also didn't help that father ran away from the family when the kids were very young.  (This also probably further damaged mother's rather fragile hold on reality.)  According to one of mother's co-workers at the printing house, mom was somewhat of a drama queen alwahys imagining the worst dramas of which she is the victim.  And then the other workers find out the whole thing was kind of made-up by Alexei's mother. 

A dysfunctional family always creates problems for the children and this is illustrated in the film. 

I don't see how the historical film footage helps much.  The footage on the Spanish Civil War was helpful because it helped set the tone for the memories of the Spaniards who are refugees from Franco's Spain.  But what's the relationship of WWII to the family?  It's is mentioned though that the family had to flee Moscow when the bombing became too heavy.  But these are rather weak uses of history. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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