Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts
Starring: Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood, Valerie Mairesse, Allan Edwall
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
First released in 1986 around the time of the passing of its director Andrei Tarkovsky, his final, enigmatic masterpiece THE SACRIFICE returns for a well deserved re-run. It’s an arty-farty meditation on materialism vs spiritualism and, clocking in at 2 and a half hours long, if you don’t like arty films you’d probably prefer watching snails race. On the other hand, if you enjoy artistic meditations on life you will be charmed by the solitary beauty of this film.
It’s Alexander’s birthday. But if this is his definition of a party, you’ve never seen a wake as depressing. Gloom has already begun to descend over the family home and the troubled souls of those within like a viscous blanket even as a third world war is announced. Alexander’s materialistic wife Adelaide, their friends Viktor and the postman Otto, their daughter Julia and their young son ‘Little Man’, plus their servants including the mysterious Maria, are distraught. Alexander is persuaded that the one last chance to turn the clock back is to visit the solitary ‘good witch’ Maria as he contemplates sacrifice for the next generation, for his adored ‘Little Man’.
This is a beautiful film, particularly eloquent in its focus on the bond between father and son, the life cycle, and its relation to both the temporal and spiritual. It uses heavy religious symbolism and is befitted with a lyrical, artistic temperament.
By contrast the disturbance of planes flying over the house to herald war is particularly effective, ripping with a deafening roar through the bleached tranquil shores drained of spirituality, and producing moments of sheer terror.
There are some ambiguous and confusing theorems here. Some may have problems with the definition of self sacrifice in the film, and the amalgamation of the notions of Christianity and spirituality (i.e. the notion of witches) are common criticisms. Some plot points are difficult to grasp (some checks were needed on the fine tuning of the plot after seeing the film!) but this is a fine adieu and indeed Tarkovsky poignantly dedicated the film to his own young son, with his ‘hope and confidence’ for the future, a message which is a solid theme throughout.