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.