Mirrors are dirty because they do no reflect images; they distort them instead. No reflection is ever an accurate copy of the subject. There is always an angle, light and sometimes dirt, rust and tinting between the viewer’s eye and the mirror. In cinema the relationship with the mirror is even more complex because there is yet another element in the interaction: the eye of the filmmaker, represented here by the camera.
Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975) has a plethora of dirty mirrors that slant, deviate, magnify and intoxicate the stunning photography and unusual narrative of the film. In fact, Mirror has an incongruous narrative: it is a loose representation of the director’s childhood with his mother and the split up from his wife decades later, interspersed by fragments of his memory. Both his mother and his wife are played by the beautiful and mysterious Margarita Terekhova.
The mirrors everywhere in the film distort Tarkovsky’s memories even further, allowing the viewer to engage with the events and the images in the film and to relate the film to their own experience. Mirror employed poetic licence at its fullest, and such artistic freedom makes the film universal. It is a very intimate film accessible to all cinema lovers. Just look at the mirror and reconstruct the film as desired.
Despite being a highly autobiographic film, Tarkovsky never appears in it. As an adult, his voice is played by his own father, while as a child he is played by Ignat Daniltsev (who also plays his son). Perhaps Tarkovsky is absent because the film director can never stand directly in front of the mirror. In other words, mirrors must be filmed from an angle so that the camera does not appear on the film (thereby preserving the fourth wall). Technology may have circumvented this issue now, but this was not the case back then.
Mirror is the most important film in my life because it has given me the freedom to envisage and to recreate the relationships in my own life. The human mind is not always cohesive: we all dream, some of us have Alzheimer’s, others go psychotic. Tarkovsky has given me the possibility to reconcile my feelings, to juggle the images and the events at my own accord and without losing my sanity.
Tarkovsky once said that he made Mirror thinking of himself, but realised upon completion was in reality about his mother Maria Vishnyakova (pictured above). She appears occasionally in the film almost like a ghost or a foreigner visiting her son. Tarkovsky rebuilt the house where he grew up precisely as he remembered it and exactly at the same spot for the filming. He then filmed his mother’s actual reactions at seeing her past home reconstructed in minute detail.
I recently asked my mother to watch Mirror with me because she is such an important part of my life. Just like Tarkovsky felt that Mirror was about his mother, I too often feel that I live for my mother, that I cry my mother’s tears. It felt that watching the film together with her, I would pay a tribute to both her and Tarkovsky, reconciling my passion for cinema with maternal love.
My mother and I live in different continents (she is in Brazil, where I was born, and I live in the UK, my chosen home). Yet she visits me often and her presence is conspicuous, just like Maria in Mirror. The more time I spend with my mother, the more she takes a leading role in my life. Not through domination. Quite the opposite, she overtakes my life through gentle affection and respect. The few moments we spend increasingly gain a dreamlike quality, just like in Tarkovsky’s film.
I write this with enormous pleasure and happiness, hoping that my ideas are intelligible to the readers and my feelings are tangible. I wish I could put into words the feelings that I have for my mother, in the same way Tarkovsky did it for his own mother with cinema. Hopefully one day I will be able to write texts as skillfully and beautifully as Tarkovsky directs movies.