Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Sacrifice: Ten Frames

It's unusual that in reviewing a movie to select my favorite shots that I discover something wholly unexpected. What one usually notices in Tarkovsky is his dreamlike tone and somnambulant sense of motion. In watching The Sacrifice again, though, I noticed how often the characters are looking away from us and each other. The movie is about the sense of the sacred, and its characters look beyond their immediate surroundings for something more. Again and again they look beyond the empirical for something incomprehensible yet within, sometimes, sense. By their search they encourage us to do the same, looking beyond the film's plot to its sense of life.

Please pardon the quality of the shots, which are darker than the excellent Blu-Ray print I watched. I also missed a few choice shots, such as that of Alexander and Maria floating, because of my arcane capture process. Finally, please note that there are many pictures on the page after the jump. I got a little carried away.

click to enlarge images

1. Apart from any symbols and suggestions contained therein, this is a deceptively simple shot full of implicit motion. As we've seen elsewhere, here we find activity along three axes of the shot: the path down the center brings us into the shot, the shape of the sea's inlet gives us horizontal motion, and Alexander raising his tree is contrasting longitudinal activity. All of this motion, though, unlike the afore-referenced Hitchcock, is quite subtle. Here the inlet is in the distance, faintly ebbing, Alexander raises the tree slowly, and the path, along which nothing moves, curves just a bit.

How natural too is this sight of land, sea, and air, with man amidst raising up his faith in the future.

This shot continues unbroken from the first, with the mercurial Otto and his cycling replacing the z-axis motion of the path. Is there perhaps a subtle suggestion in that deviation too, perhaps that Otto knows something outside the usual?

2. Roger Ebert once referred to one of Janusz Kaminski's shots in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, as, "bafflingly simple," and I think the phrase applies here. A man sits with his son. Yet there is contrast of both texture and color from the woody stems to the pointy blades of grass to the mists in the background. There is again contrast of direction, with Little Man sitting across Alexander's lap. Finally, doesn't Alexander somehow look like one of the trees, shooting up from the earth?

3. From one of Tarkovksy's famous dream sequences, this desaturated shot steals our attention by fading out life's apparent vividness and pulling from our senses and connotations of the visual elements to create tone and suggest a different kind of sight. Something about the naturalness of the rippling water over the harsh manmade landscape discomfits us, as does the unnatural presence of this chair. It surely does not belong yet the sight of it calls to mind some kind of presence simply because we associate people sitting with the sight of chairs. But does it represent presence, absence, neglect?

4. Here Alexander runs his hand over the images from his birthday present, a book of sacred paintings. His natural reaction to reach out and touch, responding to the beauty and sacred, is childlike and innocent, how he describes the pictures themselves.

5. The shifting characters and lines of sight within this scene eluded me on first viewing. With the characters forever looking past or beyond one another, our impression is less of a conversation than individuals trapped in themselves, reflecting on input and stimuli. We feel the characters separately though they are together.

6. A man looking at the world, is it he who is lost or does the map lie? Is man really so large or doe he just seem so?

7. Another shot of baffling simplicity, I don't know how Tarkovsky was able to infuse this image with such a sense of gravity and otherness. What is she looking at just beyond us? Is there a glint in the eye of this witch or is she welling with tears? She's so sensitive and innocent.

 8. Another suggestion that Otto is looking at or for things which others ignore or miss.

9. The sight of the minuscule person in the center draws us into the landscape, foreboding but not necessarily of evil.

10. When the supersonic planes fly over and shake the house, the maid the looks up with improbably slow and deliberate motion, drawing out the sense of portent. All the while she holds in her hand the stemware, a subtle suggestion that what we hold is delicate.

11. Another flyover knocks over a container from the cabinet and as it shatters the milky liquid spreads over the dark floor like an expanding universe. Is this quick glimpse into time, or out of it, or suggestive of patterns or cycles, or perhaps chaos or destruction?  


13. Perhaps the most ingenious shot of the movie, Tarkovksy pans in this dream from Alexander's beloved house down to a miniature model of it. What a subtle, brilliant shift in tone and connotation. How so very much like the house does the model look, and yet we look on it askance. Tarkovksy is using that fact that for all of their accuracies, we can still tell a miniature from the real thing. Here he uses that human sense of scale, though, simply to get us to notice that something is different. Tarkovsky gets us to look at the same thing with different eyes. How much more beautiful and vulnerable it seems.


15. Da Vinci's depiction of the Gift of the Maji appears throughout the movie but not until the end do we see it hanging framed in the house. Until then we wonder at its various appearances where it is, if it is even more than a figment of our or Alexander's imagination. Here we see it through the water and under a reflection.


17. One of few modern  devices in the house, the television holds the family entranced by the doom it brings.






23. This is but one frame of Tarkovsky's final scene in which Alexander, raving with ecstasy or insanity, runs to and fro. The camera pans back and forth trying to capture him as he eludes us. We are so caught up as he is  that we forget about the burning house in the background. 

24. As we prepare to come full circle, warmth has replaced the cool and gray opening.

25. In the beginning...

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