Mirror images of sad genius

Marina Tarkovskaya: Interview
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Marina Tarkovskaya is not a film critic, yet no one can speak with greater authority about her brother, the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, and his classic film, `Mirror'. With a special screening of the film this weekend, Vitaly Yerenkov talks to her about his work and their family tribulations.

When it was first shown, Mirror was not favourably received. Now it is re-cognised as a masterpiece. The Soviet film minister, comrade Yermash, summed it up: "Yes, we have freedom of creative expression, but not to this extent."

His dreamlike freedom of movement between past and present, from personal to universal, was so unusual that many of his colleagues rejected Mirror. The director was accused of not caring about the interlocutor and "talking only to himself".

They were upset that there was not even a token reference to ideological values. We are told nothing about the social background or political beliefs of the characters. In the story of a small boy growing up with an absent father, who in turn deserts his own family, we do not know if they have beliefs at all. Instead, we see, simply, a little boy striving for love and happiness, taking his own path as he grows into maturity.

Tarkovsky did not consult any member of his family about making the film, although all of them were to be featured in it. The idea was born when, while working on Andrei Rublev, he went through a painful separation from his first wife and son Arseny. It was as though he were re-living the biggest trauma of his childhood - separation with his own father - only now he was subjecting his own son to the same experience.

For this reason, Mirror was not an act of creative and political, but also of personal courage. Discussing family relationships "had been taboo for us for many years," says Marina. "We are not a talkative family. We found it very difficult to talk to each other and often communicated just by intuition". Tarkovsky in his diary was even more direct: "My love is passive. I can not express my feelings."

Marina is sure that making the film was his way of trying to rid himself from his sense of guilt. When he started living with "another woman", as Marina puts it. "He disappeared from our lives. We simply didn't know where, with whom and how he was living." Only after many years, when his son from the second wife was born, did the family start visiting him again.

Tarkovsky did not refer to psycho-analytical theories in his writing and interviews, and like many Russians, he felt they were alien to him. Yet casting the same actress for the role of mother and wife could only be described as "Freudian".

Their father left when Tarkovsky was four and Marina two and a half. He kept visiting them though, and each time they had to say good-bye, the separation seemed to be more painful than ever. "Father always seemed a bit embarrassed with mother, while she suppressed her feelings," reminisces Marina. "She loved him all her life."

Arseny Tarkovsky, a descendent of a Polish aristocratic family was a well-known poet who married Maria in 1928, herself a member of an ancient Russian noble family.

"Father was an outstandingly beautiful person and one couldn't fail to be aware of this aura of refined beauty," Marina recounts, her eyes and voice still full of admiration.

When the Second World War started, it became easier to cope, if not with the separation, at least with the embarrassment of not having a proper father. The children could just say proudly that their father was at the front, just like anybody else's.

When the film was made both parents were very confused, even though both of them took part in it. Their mother played herself as an old woman, while their father read his poetry in voice-over.

Their mother was particularly unhappy that the only role left for her in Mirror was the personification of the idea of motherhood. According to Marina, she was a completely non-worldly person, pure, modest and kind. She loved people and could talk equally to a peasant or to an educated person. Despite her tormented life, she possessed inner independence and strength. "Their was nothing soft or blurred about her. She was very clear cut and strong. She made the decisions in her life. Andrei was unfair towards mother," Marina admits.

Andrei left the family early when he first married in 1957. One of the reasons could be that he was not able to cope with the poor conditions in which they lived - a tiny crowded flat with mother, grandmother and Marina. However poor himself, he always took his appearance seriously, dressed very well and was a sort of a `dandy'. Marina would make ties for him from old dresses.

He also left because he wanted to escape from their mother's desire to carry on educating him. She never married again, because she believed no one could take the place of the children's father. "She sacrificed her life for us, She was one of those Russian characters who always choose the most difficult way."

If their mother was so wonderful, why did Andrei leave home so early? And why do we feel when watching Mirror that his relationship with her was that of conflict?

"Our relationship was not really in conflict," Marina tries to explain. "We all loved him with a tender, all-forgiving and all-accepting love. Perhaps mother was a bit too authoritarian and inflexible. Now that I have brought up my own children, I understand that she should have become Andrei's friend rather than teacher. "

In the script drafts of the film, it is clear that Tarkovsky was trying to publicly understand himself and his family. Yet Mirror is not an exercise in self-flagellation. It soars above the personal and reaches something profound and unspeakable in the very depth of the soul. We all have families. We all have to deal with guilt at some point of our lives.

Marina Tarkovskaya will meet the audience at the screening of `Mirror' at the Everyman Cinema in London on Sunday, 14 December at 2pm. Call Russian Pictures Cinema Club on 0181-881-9463.