Director's Cut: Enigma variations: Richard Stanley on the special effect of Tarkovsky's Mirror

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The Independent Culture
A GIRL is sitting on a fence smoking a cigarette. She's out in the deep countryside, in a forest in Russia - her house is so far in the middle of nowhere that no-one ever turns off down the path. But then a doctor walks up to ask directions. He says he has lost the key to his black bag and asks for a file; and he remarks that she's not wearing a wedding ring and must be living alone. It's a strange, slow scene; he seems menacing and she gets very nervous. He sits down, rocking up and down as he talks, the fence collapses and they both fall over backwards into the flowerbed. And suddenly he becomes quite mournful, launching into this poetic spiel about whether plants have feelings. Then he notices the time, and has to rush off. As he leaves, she calls to him that he has a spot of blood on the back of his neck - it's a funny little moment of intimacy between them.

He pauses, looks back and, just at that very second, a gust of wind comes from the far side of the field, rippling the grass and reaching the branches in the foreground. I've no idea how Tarkovsky did it - I can't imagine he had a wind machine. I'm never that impressed when I see great special effects in American movies. But that gust of wind in Mirror floored me. It has a feeling of being utterly natural.

The shading of the emotions is so delicate. At first the doctor seems threatening, then comical, and then the scene becomes wistful and mysterious towards the end. There's this tremendous sense of longing; as he walks away, it feels incredibly lonely. We never see that character again and I've always felt sorry that we don't find out more about him.

Tarkovsky complained all his life that if he'd been in the West he'd have been able to work more. But he'd have gone crazy. Most of my heroes have been arthouse film-makers, but how would you ever sell something like Mirror here? You'd never get past the pitch stage.

Richard Stanley directed 'Hardware'. His new film, 'Dust Devil', is at the Scala Cinema until 28 April. 'Mirror' is released on video by Artificial Eye at pounds 15.99.

(Photograph omitted)