"Nostalghia" (1983) movie review

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Piero Madonna del parto.jpg




The first scene includes the dog, wife, two children, a grandmother, and the white horse.

Power line. Trail. River. Mist.

Just standing in the field. Russian song? Credits.

Madonna of Childbirth

Italy. Mist. Car goes round the field, away from the gate they will enter.

E: "Thank God, we arrived."

E: "It's an extraordinary painting. I cried the first time I saw it."

A: "I am fed up with all your beauties. I don't want to take it alone any more. ... I can't take it any more. That's it."

She can't--or won't--kneel in prayer.

Sacristan: "Do you want a baby too? Or are you asking God to spare you?"

E: "I'm just here to have a look."

Nothing happens for onlookers.

Sacristan: "Unfortunately, if there are any casual onlookers, who aren't supplicants, then nothing happens."

E: "What is supposed to happen?"

S: "Whatever you like, whatever you need most."

E: "Why do you think it's only the women who pray so much?"

S: "A woman is meant to have children, to raise them, with patience and self-sacrifice."

S: "You asked what I thought."

S: "I know ... you want to be happy."

Mother of all mothers,
who knows the pain of being a mother.
Mother of all mothers,
who knows the joy of being a mother.
Mother of all mothers,
who knows the joy of having a child.
Mother of all children,
who knows the pain of not having a child.
Mother who understands all,
help your daughter to become a mother.

"Madonna of Childbirth" by Piero della Francesca.

"Andrei Tarkovsky's Madonna del Parto."
In July of 1984, Andrei Tarkovsky attended a press conference in Milan where he announced to the world that he would not return to the Soviet Union. When a journalist asked him if he would be seeking political exile in Italy, Tarkovsky answered, "I'm telling you a drama. You cannot ask me bureaucratic questions. Which country? I don't know. It's like asking me in which cemetery I wish to bury my children" [1]. This laconic announcement came at the end of the drama that began in 1979 when he first chose to go to Italy to film Nostalghia. The film itself stands as a testament to his own experience of nostalgia during his exile; in fact Tarkovsky calls the protagonist, Andrei Gorchakov, a "mirror" of himself [2].
The first scene of the film, Eugenia and Gorchakov's visit to the Madonna del Parto, exemplifies Nostalghia's ambiguous agency. Gorchakov wants to see the painting because it reminds him of his wife. Tarkovsky chooses the painting because it reminds him of his wife. Tarkovsky also chooses the painting because it is not well known and, therefore, allows him greater artistic license in using it in his film. By contrast, heavily touristed sights like the Campidoglio require a total fidelity in order to be plausible to an international audience. At Piero's fresco, however, he can and does take great liberties manipulating the painting so that it "fits" in his film. Gorchakov goes to the out of the way location for a similar reason: he dislikes tourists.
Tarkovsky's mother died on the fifth of October, 1979, after he had returned to Russia following the filming of Tempo di viaggio [23]. Tarkovsky admits to the idiosyncrasy of gender essentialism mainly in relation to his mother. In Mirror (Russia, 1974, Andrei Tarkovsky), for example, when his ex-wife accuses him of being self-centered, the autobiographical character Alexei says, "I can't help it. I was raised by women." In light of this statement and many like it, the dedication of Nostalghia to his mother is a reference to the ground for his gender-essentialist and anti-feminist film. However, the words that appear on the screen at the end of Nostalghia, "Dedicato a la memoria di mia madre," are both a dedication to Tarkovsky's mother and also a return to the first scene of the Madonna del Parto. It echoes the reason that inspired Piero to paint the Madonna del Parto in his mother's native village of Monterchi. Her death in November of 1459 is believed to be the catalyst for the fresco [24].
The projected desire for the alleviation of pain after conception has been most likely a devotional power of the fresco since it was first painted [27].
Utilitarian notions of freedom and the pursuit of happiness are bound up in Eugenia's character and it is on her shoulders that the full weight of Tarkovsky's judgment rests. In the modern age of safe and anesthetic births, a fertility ritual that recognizes the connection of pregnancy to mortal risk and suffering is perhaps the only way that Tarkovsky can polemicize his anti-feminist agenda. Thus the spoken element of the ritual which overlays its meaning upon the image of the Madonna's expression is orchestrated as an indictment both of feminism and of the West as a whole.
Tarkovsky's concept of male/female polarity is stated succinctly in his journal: "What is a woman's driving force? Submission, humiliation in the name of love. And a man's? Creation" [29]. Creation for Tarkovsky is always artistic. Furthermore, artistic creation is visualized in terms of procreation and conception. In Sculpting in Time he writes, "It is like childbirth ... The poet has nothing to be proud of: he is not master of the situation, but a servant" [30]. Note that in this instance, not only is the creative force associated with childbirth but also with the female trait of submission. Thus within Tarkovsky's concept of male artistic creation, we find aspects that are similar to those of pregnancy and childbirth: the work matures as a child does, and the artist during the process of creation experiences the same humility and submission that the woman does in miraculous, selfless love for the man.
The implications of this fetish for the rest of the film are shattering in regard to Eugenia. Throughout, the correlation between the Madonna and Gorchakov's wife are exhaustively sexualized. Gorchakov's remark to Domenico that his wife is like the Madonna del Parto "ma piu nera," goes without saying. Furthermore, Tarkovsky's treatment of Eugenia's costume resonates as the unsettling frustration of the pregnancy fetish. Throughout the film, until the final scene where she has submitted to Vittorio, Eugenia is seen wearing voluptuous, loose clothing; these clothes connote sensuality to the viewer but to Gorchakov they simply underline the void of her belly. In this sense, the film sustains a dramatic irony whereby Eugenia, oblivious to the implications of her encounter with the Madonna and unaware of Gorchakov's dreams of his pregnant wife, remains mystified by Gorchakov's frigidity. This dramatic irony reaches its height when Eugenia mistakenly offers Gorchakov her breast and asks "Is this what you want?" A sexual encounter without conception is simply not within Gorchakov's erotic imagination. Through this reading provided by Freud's notion of the fetish, the romantic non-event of Nostalghia becomes intelligible.

Mystic interlude

Angel seen entering his house in Russia.


E: "I don't understand you. You go on and on about the Madonna of Childbirth. We drove halfway across Italy in the fog. And you didn't even go in to see her."

A: "Poetry is untranslatable, like the whole of art."

E: But music ...

E: "How can we get to know each other?"

A: abolish the frontiers between states

E: Maid in Milan set fire to her house.

E: "She suffered from nostalgia ... So she burned the thing that stopped her going back."

Sosnovsky is modeled on Ukrainian composer Maksym Berezovsky.
Maksym Sozontovych Berezovsky (Polish: Maksym Berezowski) (c.1745 –1777) was a Ukrainian composer, opera singer, and violinist.
Berezovsky was the first Ukrainian composer to be recognized throughout Europe and the first to compose an opera, symphony, and violin sonata. His most popular works are his sacred choral pieces written for the Orthodox Church. Much of his work has been lost; only three of the 18 known choral concertos have been found. Dmitry Bortniansky was thought to be the first Ukrainian symphonic composer until the discovery in 2002 of Berezovsky's Symphony in C by Steven Fox in the Vatican archives, composed around 1770–1772.
[Berezovsky was sent to Italy in the spring of 1769 to train with renowned teacher padre Giovanni Battista Martini at the Bologna Philharmonic Academy, where he graduated with distinction.]
According to archival discoveries in the late 20th century, Berezovsky was appointed a staff member of the imperial theatres and capellmeister of the Royal court capella eight months later. This was a high ranking position for a musician and contradicts the notion that Berezovsky’s talent was not appreciated upon his return to Saint Petersburg. Some sources state that he committed suicide as a result of depression for not being accepted upon his return to Saint Petersburg. His first biographer, Eugene Bolkhovitinov, made this assertion in 1804 based on testimonials of those who knew Berezovsky. Marina Ritzarev, a contemporary scholar, asserts that he did not commit suicide but rather likely caught a sudden fever resulting in his death after developing some psychic disease. He died in Saint Petersburg on March 24 (April 2, N.S.), 1777.

E: "Why won't you confide in me? I don't understand."

A: "Read this. You will understand." [She reads the letter late in the movie, I think. Interrupted by hotelier coming to give them their keys and rooms. She calls it "the letter from Bologna."]

A Carries the keys to his house in his coat pocket. Heard several times, not shown.

Hotelier: "He's sad because he is in love."

E: "No, I think his mind's on other things."

Something falls out of the bible. Coin? Comb with hair. Witchcraft? Spell? Curse? Superstition?

A: "Did you knock?" E: "Not yet." He takes the book of poetry from her and shuts the door in her face.

E: Poses provocatively, briefly. She did not get what she wanted from him, but she seems to express the conviction that she will win him eventually. Shifts her purse. "One, two, three--go!" Falls. Laughs.

[I'm baffled by the table saw noises. Never resolved. Just there in Dominico's scenes.]

[The rain, on the other hand, is (maybe) explained by an entry in AT's diary. One of the effects of his own depression was feeling as though rain was constantly falling around him (?).

Mystic Interlude Two

Who is the woman the Russian wife hugs and kisses? The translator? She hovers over Andrey in his dream, who seems to have a wound in his wrist or hand.

At the hot springs

OK. Zoe is the name of the dog. Called that when we first meet Domenico.

General's Chinese music: "Voice of God, of nature." No wailing.

"In the 60s, a drowned body was found here."

Domenico to his dog? Russian to translator? "Now listen, it's never too late to learn. ... Have you heard their talk? What they're interested in? You've got to be different. You know why they're in the water? They want to live forever."

D: "Never forget what he said to her. ... 'You are she who is not; I am Who AM.'"

A: "I don't understand 'the faith.' What is it?"

A: "He's not mad. He has faith."

A: "We don't know what madness is. They're troublesome, inconvenient. We refuse to understand them. They're alone. But they're certainly closer to the truth."

People who write stuff like this have evidently never worked in a soup kitchen or visited a nut ward.
"Movie magic": insane characters are played by relatively sane actors, who can give up their mimicry of a psychotic state at will and at a moment's notice, for dramatic effect. I've lived with at least one certified schizophrenic, and took a friend to a hospital who was suffering an acute psychotic breakdown. Neither is a beautiful condition.

Bagno Vignoni

"It is known that Catherine of Siena stayed in Bagno Vignoni several times, taken there by her mother in an attempt to dissuade her from joining the Order" (Cretedisiena, "Bagno Vignoni").

Hotel Corridor

A: "You're prettier in this light."

A: "I'm beginning to understand."

She's hurt. She had hoped he was beginning to understand her--her crush on him. He is interested in why Domenico kept his family locked up for seven years.

Visit with Domenico

Plastic sheet full of water--NOOOOOOO! It wouldn't last. It would rip itself to shreds after a few storms. You need a tent top to shed the water.

Yes, the bread and wine from the mad man. So, for AT, he is "alter christus." [Paul: "fool for Christ."]

Some reviewers love the water splashing around the brown and green bottle. To what end?

D: "We need bigger ideas."

D: "I was selfish before. I wanted to save my family. Everyone must be saved. The whole world. ... It's simple. ... You need to cross the water with the lighted candle. ... I can't do it. When I light the candle and get in the water, they pull me out. They kick me out. And they shout, 'You're crazy!' ... Help me."

A: "Why me, of all people?"

Domenico does not answer the question directly. He asks whether Andrey is married, whether he has children, and whether his wife is beautiful.

A: "She's like that but all black [ma piu nera]." "More black?" "But darker"?

D: "We're planning something big in Rome." Then starts calling for Zoe. 1+1=1 in the background. "It's wrong to keep thinking the same thing."

"Papa. Is this the end of the world?"

Andrey and Eugenia in his room

Holds keys to his house (or hotel room, or both) when he finds E. in his room.

"Why are you afraid of everything? Full of complexes. You are not free. You all seem to want freedom, you talk about freedom, but when you get it, you don't know what to do with it or what it is."

"You're a kind of saint. You're interested in Madonnas. No! You're different. ... Can't I ever meet the right man? I don't mean you. You're the worst. But I swear I'll find my kind of man. And I have. He's waiting for me in Rome. You dress badly, too. And you're boring. ... You're the kind I'd sleep with rather than explain why I don't feel like it. ... I can't take any more!"

"Thank God there's been nothing between us! Just the thought makes me sick!"

A: "She's insane."

E: "Run back to your wife! Though you nearly betrayed her! ... Hypocrite!"

A slaps her as she walks away. (?) His nose starts bleeding. Chinese music.

Wipes his blood off the floor.

She brings the letter back. Bad dream: standing as a statue. "I knew I would be harshly punished if I moved because our lord and master was watching us. ... It was no dream, but my reality. I could try not to return to Russia, but the thought kills me because I would die if I never again saw my homeland--the birches, the air of my childhood." [Meanwhile, A lies down with blood on his nose and lip--like a corpse, I suppose.]

His wife's name is Maria.

Mystic Interlude Three

Back to opening point of view: dog, son, daugher, mother (?), wife, white horse, mist, river, power line

I wonder whether it is a stuffed horese. Too still.

"Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986)."
By 1935, when the family moved to a place outside Moscow, strains were beginning to show in the relationship between mother and father, leading to their divorce and the ultimate departure of the father. Andrei grew up in the company of his mother, grandmother, and sister, without a man in the house.
Andrei Tarkovsky died of lung cancer in Paris on the night of 28/29 December 1986. His life's work is the tree he himself planted and that, if we tend it well, may be wakened to life in the future. In the end, it was as if he had been overtaken by his own images, by the white horse recurring in his films, and by his own preoccupations with the Apocalypse and the vision of St. John: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death."

The flooded church

[Poetry, drunken interlude, flooded church, urchin girl, fire, visions, ...]

"Everyone shoots in Italy. And there are too many Italian shoes."

Keys in his pocket. Plans to wear different coat when he goes home.

"You know the great love stories, the classics? No kissing. No kissing. Nothing at all. Very pure. Hence great. Feelings unspoken are unforgettable."

Parable of the slimy pond: "I live in there."


"Are you happy about life?"

"About life, yes!"

Domenico voiceover?

"Gather up at dawn my melted wax and read in it whom to mourn, what to be proud of. How, by donating the last portion of joy, to die lightly and in the shelter of a makeshift roof, to light up posthumously, like a word."

The book of poetry is burning as A sleeps.

Garbage-strewn alley.

Mirrored cabinet.

A finds Domenico inside himself?

Saw blade sounds. Always associated with Domenico.

"My God, why did I do it? They're my children, my family, my own flesh and blood. How could I? Years without seeing the sun, fearing the light of day. Why?"

In a ruined church

Ruins of a church.

Prayer or chant in the background.

Woman: "Lord, do you see how he's asking? Say something to him."

Lord: "But what would happen if he heard my voice?"

Woman: "Let him feel your presence."

Lord: "I always do, but he's not aware of it."

Back to him passed out in the flooded church. The book of poetry is almost completely consumed by the flames.


E: "He's here in Rome for a demonstration. They do weird things, like Fidel Castro."


E: "We'll probably go to India. He's interested in spiritual issues. He's from a distinguished family in Orvieto."

E: "How's your heart?"

A: "I don't know. I've reached the limit. I want to go home."

E's last line: "Good-bye, Vittorio. I'm going to buy some cigarettes." [He has cigarettes, and is smoking one as she leaves.]

D: "We must listen to the voices that seem useless. ... Someone must shout that we will build the pyramids. It doesn't matter if we don't. We must fuel that wish and stretch the corners of the soul like an endless sheet. If you want the world to go forward we must hold hands. We must mix the so-called healthy with the so-called sick. ... Freedom is useless if you don't have the courage to look us in the eye, to eat, drink, and sleep with us. It's the so-called healthy who have brought the world to the verge of ruin. ... We're not crazy; we're serious. ... Here's my new pact with the world: it must be sunny at night and snowy in August. Great things end; small things endure. Society must become united again, instead of so disjointed. Just look at nature and you'll see that life is simple. We must go back to where we were, to the point where we took the wrong turn. We must go back to the main foundations of life without dirtying the water. What kind of world is this if a madman tells you, 'You must be ashamed of yourselves!' Music now."

Dominico's last coherent line: "Oh, mother! The air is that light thing that moves around your head and becomes clearer when you laugh."

I hate this meme. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." It is the deconstructionist approach to life: "We can't define the difference between sanity and insanity, therefore there is no difference. The so-called 'sane' are oppressing the so-called 'insane.' It's just a matter of words, not of reality. The 'insane' are just as logical and consistent and virtuous and good as the 'sane'; they just refuse to play the 'sane game.' They are artists of originality. They see things we can't see and hear things we can't hear."
We have zillions of holy idiots. We call them "rock stars."

Sign as Domenico suffers: "Tomorrow is the end of the world."

Andrey's death

Andrey's true home is in the church? He's home at last. Russia and his spiritual longings are satisfied.

I admire A's sacrifice as much as I dislike D's.

"Dedicated to the memory of my mother."