Critical Report by Justin DiGregorio
On March 17th, 2017, a screening of Nostalghia (Tarkovsky, 1983) was held by the Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies at Ryerson's School of Image Arts as an installment in the Screening Memory film series coordinated by Professor Hudson Moura. James Macgillivray, a guest speaker from the Department of Architecture at the University of Toronto, led discussions after the screening to explore the film’s underlying messages about memory. This report will provide a review of Nostalghia and discuss the experience of the screening event.
Nostalghia was released in 1983 by director Andrei Tarkovsky. The film is centered on the state of mind which assails Russians far from their homeland. This concept is realized through the character of Andrei Gorchakov, a weary Russian poet who has traveled to Italy to research Russian composer Sosnovsky. Sosnovsky studied in Bologna before returning to Russia and hanging himself in the late 1700s (Tarkovsky, 1983). This general synopsis of the film mirrors the experiences of its director. Tarkovsky shot Nostalghia in Italy to escape Russian censorship and pursue artistic freedom. Being in Italy provided Tarkovsky with a whole new environment from which he could have been inspired. Instead, Tarkovsky’s creative expression was dampened by the memories of his homeland. The affliction of mind experienced by Tarkovsky is projected onto Gorchakov. In the film’s opening scene, Gorchakov turns down an offer by his translator Eugenia to view Piero Della Francesca’s painting Madonna del Parto (Tarkovsky, 1983). This is one of many scenes in the film where Gorchakov’s inaction is meant to represent his nostalgia for Russia. To reflect his own mental state, Tarkovsky created a moody and introspective film that rarely explores the characteristics of its setting. At times, the slow pace of the film is challenging, and its personal nature may make audiences feel estranged. However, it can be argued that the intent of the film was to create an artistic manifestation of memory rather than develop a conventional plotline. In this regard, Nostalghia succeeds spectacularly. Viewers are put into the mind of Gorchakov and gather a firsthand account of his nostalgia for Russia. Tarkovsky accomplished this through memory sequences that are slowed down, filmed in black-and-white/sepia tones, and composed of long, continuous shots. Nostalghia is a vivid account of Tarkovsky’s experiences that can be thoroughly enjoyable for viewers in the correct frame of mind.
The experience of the screening provided the proper viewing environment for Nostalghia. Due to the artistic composition of the film, it can feel longer than its two-hour run time. For instance, Gorchakov learns from the madman Domenico that walking with a lit candle across an emptied mineral pool is a spiritually fulfilling task (Tarkovsky, 1983). The final scene in the film features Gorchakov attempting this feat in what is a nearly ten minute, real-time shot. Without being fully invested, it is quite possible that audiences will not be entertained by this style of filmmaking. Ryerson’s School of Image Arts offered a quiet and intimate setting where viewers could devote themselves to the film. The theatre’s dark ambiance aligned with the film’s themes about memory. The experience was further enhanced by picture and sound quality that’s not typically available in a more casual setting. Additionally, the discussions led by James Macgillivray provided analysis on the film that made its artistic composition more accessible. Macgillivray’s background in architecture provided for a unique perspective on Nostalghia that coincided with the films focus on visual elements. One of Macgillivray’s central discussion points was Tarkovsky’s allegorical use of water. While visiting Domenico’s home, Gorchakov notices a space on the ceiling that lets rain in and the equation “1+1=1” scratched into a wall. Domenico eludes to the fact that when two drops of rain come into contact, it is just one big drop (Tarkovsky, 1983). Macgillivray helped unravel one possible interpretation of this scene by suggesting it means that Gorchakov the artist and Domenico the madman are two sides of the same coin. Nostalghia has many moments where the underlying meaning 's hard to decipher. The analysis provided by Macgillivray added a crucial dimension of meaning and pleasure to the film. In hindsight, a film like Nostalghia is probably best enjoyed at a screening event where audiences are fully engaged and able to participate in discussion.
Overall, viewing Nostalghia at the Screening Memory film series made was a comprehensive and pleasant experience. The film challenges audiences with its slow pace and unconventional structure. However, the atmosphere provided by the School of Image Arts and discussion helmed by James Macgillivray made it possible to appreciate Nostalghia’s artistic and thematic connections to the concept of memory.