Daunting, crushing, beautifully shot and a technical marvel, you couldn’t ask for any more than that from Andrei Tarkovsky. His meditation and contemplation throughout Nostalgia, his penultimate feature project, is just as poetic as the rest of his greatest hits. Falling into relative obscurity, but still well-known enough to not feel like finding a unique, beautiful experience hidden among the dreck of other filmmakers, Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia doesn’t feel like it receives nearly the same amount of fanfare as his other works. But that’s the real beauty of it, because although it’s nowhere close to the popularity levels of Solaris or Andrei Rublev, this 80s Tarkovsky film has just as much depth and even more depravity on display.
Maybe it was a tad too much for general audiences. Tarkovsky is usually a rather unfulfilled man, a director who thrusts every ounce of himself into a project and provides us with masterpiece after masterpiece, yet someone that is holding himself wholly in contempt. That’s what I gathered from Nostalgia, a loose-narrative piece that takes us through the charming streets of Italy in a way only Tarkovsky can. As the title suggests, Nostalgia is a reflective piece that follows Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovskiy) as he researches the life of an 18th-century Russian composer. There are achingly large areas to dive into with such ease, it makes Nostalgia relatively easy pickings for someone of Tarkovsky’s abilities.
I’d argue that this is perhaps the bleakest film Tarkovsky had to offer. Relentless from start to finish, we watch a director toil in grief, a maddening cloud hanging over him for the entire running time. It really shows throughout Nostalgia too, with the grey colour palette a frequent addition to almost every scene. As experienced and versatile as his other features, Tarkovsky blends his message seamlessly with engaging and enticing moments in almost every moment. By no means his strongest musings, in fact, there are a few scenes that begin to feel like they have nothing they wish to express, but it still makes for thoroughly interesting moments. Tarkovsky relies on the technical merits of his crew here, and whilst it’s not the most creative he’s been with these moments, it’s a certainly lucid experience.
A minimalist approach to story sees Nostalgia become a vignette experience, with dream sequences sheltering in our leading characters. Rather haunting at times, with twisted visions and apparitions that really push the boundaries of what Tarkovsky’s cast had to offer, but a rather stagnant experience in regard to his innovations behind the camera and through his cinematography. He never rehashes old ideas, but there’s nothing of extreme beauty or intrigue throughout. A tremendous step in the right direction, though, nowhere close to being as strong as his more popular, memorable works, but certainly an equal in grace and substance. More classic Tarkovsky, I can’t ask for more than that.