Nostalghia (1983)

“If there are any casual onlookers who aren’t supplicants, then nothing happens.”
This line, spoken directly to the camera early in Nostalghia, serves as a sort of warning for the audience: Watching this film is not meant to be a passive experience. In order to get anything out of it, you will need to pay attention and think and interact, and maybe even believe.
The minimalist plot of Nostalghia concerns a Russian poet named Andrei Gorchakov who has left his homeland in order to research a biography he is writing about an 18th Century Russian composer named Sosnovsky, who went to Italy to study in Bologna. Shortly after returning to the oppressive environment in his home country, the composer committed suicide.
Andrei Tarkovsky left Russia in 1982 to shoot Nostalghia in Italy, and he did not return to his homeland again. Even when he was working within the Russian film industry, he railed for years against the state’s censorship of his films; it is not hard to see Andrei in the film as a stand-in for Andrei the director.
When Eugenia, Andrei’s translator in Italy, tells him she is reading a translation of a book of poetry by Arseni Tarkovsky (Andrei Tarkovsky’s real-life father), he tells her, “Poetry is untranslatable, like the whole of art.”
On his journey in the film, Andrei meets a reclusive man named Domenico, who once locked his family in their house for seven years to await the end of the world. He tells Andrei he did it because “I was selfish, I wanted to save my family. Everyone must be saved, the whole world.”
Domenico gives Andrei a candle and tells him that in order to save the world, he must cross the pool of St. Catherine with it lit. The scene in which Andrei attempts to cross the pool–shot in a single nine-minute take–has become one of Tarkovsky’s movie famous film sequences.
Nostalghia finds Tarkovsky revisiting many of the themes that have colored his earlier films, including the place and value of art in a fallen world, but the Italian locations and language lend them an air of freshness and tension as he attempts to translate his visual poetry into a new language.
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