Offret (The Sacrifice): An Evening with Tarkovsky – Part 2

A deep exhaustion bathed my body after watching Andrei Rublev. Too late to have anymore caffeinated tea, a hidden determination scratched my brain enough to seek out another operatic entry in Andrei Tarkovsky’s oeuvre. Offret, or The Sacrifice, was the filmmaker’s ultimate piece.

Maybe because the film is in the Swedish language do I believe this, but it is obvious there was a dialogue of influence Tarkovsky between himself and director Ingmar Bergman. His mastery extends over contemporaneous legends like Terrence Malick, Michael Haneke, and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Tarkovsky’s Offret begins with Alexander and his mute son “Little Man” planting a dead tree, anchored by a ring of stones, on the oceanside. As Alexander’s friends begin to arrive for his birthday celebration, bearing stories and gifts of 16th century European maps, we learn more about him. Alexander is a retired actor, married to an actress, with a teenage daughter and a young son who cannot speak, all of whom reside in their seaside home. It is a sparsely furnished home with creaky wood floors, and windows and cabinet doors that can’t (or won’t) stay shut–you might assume their world is on a tilt.

A thunderous sound permeates Alexander’s contemplative, verbose celebration, and a weary mood sets in. Sitting in front of a dim blue light, the party watches an authoritative, faceless voice address a country on the brink of a devastating nuclear war. Mortality, regret, repentance, and shame dig in. Tarkovsky’s gray and gloomy world becomes grayer and darker. Alexander, at first more introspective, now panicked, prays to God, offering up everything he loves in exchange for God’s deliverance.

After awaking from a dream, Alexander sets his house ablaze. Tarkovsky does not offer any clues on whether or not Alexander has dreamed the entire ordeal. And so, Offret is an enigmatic reverie of sorts. Tarkovsky takes immense joy from watching his characters struggle with the ephemeral under the lens of that which is inexplicable and obscure. Always with an eye towards the omniscient, Alexander never finds a way to cope, neither in a dreamlike state nor in reality, and neither do we, for that matter.

Andrei Rublev: An Evening with Tarkovksy – Part 1

I dug my heels into an evening with Tarkovsky. A white mug of Earl Grey tea, cooled down with vanilla almond milk accompanied me as I delved into Tarkovsky’s Soviet censored epic, Andrei Rublev. The film, based on the eponymous painter of Russian Orthodox frescoes and icons, was a meditative eulogy on the artist and the political and religious struggles of 15th century Russia. An attempt at an authentic and realistic portrayal of Russia in the 1400’s, Tarkovsky’s Rublev deliberates on the life of the painter through eight chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. Perhaps a series of long vignettes, each one a soliloquy imbued with myriad monologues, Rublev’s journey from traveling monk to a self-defeated artist under a vow of silence is an odyssey against the backdrop of the violent scenery of an unforgiving Russia. A prolonged and detailed Tatar raid against the town of Vladimir singes into the mind unforgettable images of cows set ablaze and speared horses–violence and injury between and against animals are a recurring theme, one that submits a single eye’s attention.

Tarkovsky isn’t as concerned with the truth-telling of Rublev’s life, but the ruminations of a devout man in an oppressive world. It is not only the tyrants’ oppression that Rublev succumbs to, but the artists’ self-doubt and one man’s conscience before his god. A meditation on unsuccessful attempts at humanity’s repentance and the lingering fight against impurity, Andrei Rublev represents humankind’s unrelenting failures and habitual moral perseverance.

Tarkovksy’s epilogue is the only color sequence, a bejeweled survey of Rublev’s religious scenes. Reds and azures glow while film composer Ovchinnikov’s ecclesial Rachmaninoffian choir swells and ebbs the “ah” vowel over his dramatic symphony. It is the shocking final page in one of film’s greatest novels.

Oslo, August 31st – An Intra-personal Reflection

I watched Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st last night.  Anders Danielsen Lie portrays with quiet intensity a man who receives a day’s leave from an addiction recovery center to return to Oslo, where he has a job interview for an associate editor position at an up-and-coming culture magazine.  He spends his time in Oslo visiting old friends, eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations, and undergoing the temptations a recovering addict would inevitably encounter on the first day in the real world in ten months.

Watching Lie’s performance of his character (with whom he shares a first name), you can see how emotionally vapid and simultaneously overwhelmed Anders feels.  For those of us who have suffered crippling depression born of apathy and fear, Lie’s performance is a terrifying, yet comforting mirror.  How many times have you sat in a coffee shop–no, how many times have I sat in a coffee shop–and listened, without shame, to others’ conversations, imagined what their lives are like, or how happy or sad they are?  How many times have I gone from smiling one moment, to remembering exactly how unhappy I am, as if being happy for just one second was a necessary reminder that no, I am unhappy.

Lie conveys so much in a performance that is mostly wordless, and when Anders does speak, he rarely communicates his emotions in ways that are easy to understand.  Anders is one massive miscommunication, lost in his depression, apathy, and recovery.  Trier’s film is wrought with the apathy that its main character embodies, reveling in intimate, lingering shots that feel both close and withdrawn, as if we are to watch Oslo objectively, sans compassion, which makes it that much harder to watch Anders struggle in the tempestuous 24 hours he spends in “the real world”.