The Mirror (Зеркало, Zerkalo) is a 1975 Russian film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is loosely autobiographical, blending childhood memories, newsreel footage and poems by his father Arseny Tarkovsky. The film features Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Tarkovsky's wife Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova and Anatoli Solonitsyn and has a soundtrack by Eduard Artemyev.
The Mirror has no apparent plot. Instead it rhythmically combines contemporary scenes with childhood memories and newsreel footage. At various points in the film poems by Tarkovsky's father are recited. The loose flow of visually oneiric images has been compared to the stream of consciousness technique in literature. Its complex yet simultaneously simple structure makes The Mirror one of Tarkovsky's most difficult films, as well as his most personal. Today The Mirror is widely regarded as a masterpiece and one of Tarkovsky's best works.
The concept of The Mirror dates as far back as 1964. Over the years Tarkovsky wrote several screenplay variants, at time working together with Aleksandr Misharin. This script was initially not approved by the film committee of Goskino, and only after several years of waiting Tarkovsky would be allowed to realize The Mirror. At various times the script was known under different names, most notably Confession and A White, White Day. The completed film was initially rejected by Goskino, and after some delay only given a limited release in the Soviet Union.
In a larger context, The Mirror depicts the thoughts and emotions of Alexei (Ignat Daniltsev) and the world surrounding him. The structure of the film is discontinuous and non-chronological, without a conventional plot, and combines childhood memories with newsreel footage. The film switches between three different times, the prewar time, the wartime and the postwar 1960s.
The film starts with Alexei's son Ignat (also played by Ignat Daniltsev) switching on a television set and watching the examination of a stutter by a physician. In the next scene, set in the countryside in the prewar time, Alexei's mother Maria (Margarita Terekhova) is talking with a passing-by doctor (Anatoli Solonitsyn). The exterior and the interior of the house are shown and a barn on fire. In a dream sequence Maria is washing her hair. Set in the postwar time, in the 1960s Alexei is talking with his mother Maria on the phone, while the interior of a house is shown. Switching to the prewar time, the mother Maria is shown at her work as a proofreader at the printing press. She is worrying about a mistake she may have overlooked, but is comforted by her colleague Lisa (Alla Demidova).
Back in the postwar time, Alexei quarrels with his wife Natalia (also played by Margarita Terekhova), who has divorced him and is living with his son Ignat. This is followed by scenes from the Spanish Civil War and the ascent of a balloon in the USSR. In the next scene the same apartment is shown, with a strange woman (Tamara Ogorodnikova) sitting in one room. Ignat reads a letter by Alexander Pushkin and receives a telephone call from his father Alexei. Switching to the wartime, Alexei is shown during rifle training, intercut by newsreel footage of the Sino-Soviet border conflict and World War II. In the next scene, the reunion of the children with the father (Oleg Yankovsky) after the end of the war is shown. The film then returns to the quarrel between Alexei and his wife Natalia in the postwar 1960s. Switching to the prewar time, the house and the surrounding countryside are again shown, intercut by a dreamlike sequence showing a levitating mother. The film then switches to the postwar time, showing Alexei on his deathbed. The final scene plays in the prewar time, showing a pregnant mother Maria, intercut by scenes showing Maria young and old (the old Maria is played by Tarkovsky's mother Maria Vishnyakova).
The Mirror draws heavily on Tarkovsky's own childhood. Childhood memories such as the evacuation from Moscow to the countryside during the war, the withdrawn father and his own mother, who worked as a proofreader in a printing press feature prominently in the film.
The concept of The Mirror dates as far back as 1964, when Tarkovsky wrote down his idea for a film about the dreams, thoughts and memories of a man, without the man appearing on screen as he would in a conventional film. The first episodes of The mirror were written while Tarkovsky was working on Andrei Rublev. These episodes were published as a short story under the title A White Day in 1970. The title was taken from a 1942 poem by his father, Arseny Tarkovsky. In 1968, after having finished Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky went to the cinematographer's resort in Repino intending to write the script for The Mirror together with Aleksandr Misharin. This script was titled Confession and was proposed to the film committee at Goskino. Although it contained popular themes such as an heroic mother, the war and patriotism, the proposal was turned down. The main reason was most likely the complex and unconventional nature of the script. Moreover, Tarkovsky and Misharin clearly stated that they did not know what the final form of the film would be - this was to be determined in the process of filming.
With the script being turned down by the film committee, Tarkovsky went on to make the film Solaris. But his diary entries show that he was still eager to make the film. Finally, the script was approved by the new head of Goskino, Filipp Ermash in the summer of 1973. Tarkovsky was given a budget of 622,000 Soviet ruble and 7500 meters of Kodak film, corresponding to roughly three takes assuming a film length of 3000 meters.
Several versions of the script for The Mirror exist, as Tarkovsky constantly rewrote parts of the script, with the latest variant of the script written in 1984 while he was in Italy. One scene that was in the script but that was removed during shooting, was an interview with his mother. Tarkovsky wanted to use a hidden camera to interview her on the pretext that it was research for the film. This scene was one of the main reasons why Vadim Yusov, who was the cameraman for all of Tarkovsky's previous films refused to work with him together on The Mirror. At various times, the script and the film was known under the titles Confession, Redemption, Martyrology, Why are you standing so far away?, The Raging Stream and A White, White Day (sometimes also translated as A Bright, Bright Day.). Only while filming Tarkovsky decided to finally title the film The Mirror.
Filming began in September 1973 and ended in March 1974. The outdoor scenes were shot in Tutshkovo near Moscow. The indoor scenes were shoot at the Mosfilm studio.
The completed film was initially rejected by Filipp Ermash, the head of Goskino in July 1974. One reason given was that the film is incomprehensible. Tarkovsky was infuriated about this rejection and even toyed with the idea of going abroad and making a film outside the Soviet Union. The Mirror was ultimately approved by Goskino without any changes in fall 1974.
The Mirror never had an official premiere and had only a limited, second category release with only 73 copies. Although it was officially announced for September 1975, it was shown as early as April 1975. Nevertheless it was well received by the audiences. Goskino did not allow The Mirror to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The managing director of the festival, Maurice Bessy, was symphathetic to Tarkovsky. Upon hearing that The Mirror would not be allowed to be shown in Cannes, he unsuccessfully threatened to not take any other Soviet film.