Mirror (1975 film)

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The Mirror (1975 film).png
Russian DVD cover
Directed byAndrei Tarkovsky
Written by
Produced byErik Waisberg
Narrated by
CinematographyGeorgy Rerberg
Edited byLyudmila Feiginova
Music byEduard Artemyev
Release date
  • 7 March 1975 (1975-03-07)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
CountrySoviet Union
LanguagesRussian, Spanish
BudgetSUR 622,000[2]

Mirror (Russian: Зеркало, romanized: Zerkalo)[3] is a 1975 Russian art film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is loosely autobiographical, unconventionally structured, and incorporates poems composed and read by the director's father, Arseny Tarkovsky. The film features Margarita Terekhova, Ignat Daniltsev, Alla Demidova, Anatoly Solonitsyn, Tarkovsky's wife Larisa Tarkovskaya and his mother Maria Vishnyakova. Innokenty Smoktunovsky provides voiceover and Eduard Artemyev the incidental music and sound effects.

Mirror is structured in the form of a nonlinear narrative, with its main concept dating back to 1964 and undergoing multiple scripted versions by Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Misharin. It unfolds around memories recalled by a dying poet of key moments in his life and in Soviet culture. The film combines contemporary scenes with childhood memories, dreams, and newsreel footage. Its cinematography slips between color, black-and-white, and sepia. The film's loose flow of visually oneiric images has been compared with the stream of consciousness technique in modernist literature.

Mirror initially polarized critics and audiences, with many considering its narrative to be incomprehensible. The work has grown in reputation since its release and is now considered one of the greatest films of all time, ranking nineteenth in Sight & Sound's 2012 critics' poll and ninth in the directors' poll.[4][5] It has also found favor with many Russians for whom it remains their most beloved of Tarkovsky's works.[6]


Structure and content[edit]

Mirror depicts the thoughts, emotions and memories of Alexei, or Alyosha (Ignat Daniltsev), and the world around him as a child, adolescent, and forty-year-old. The adult Alexei is only briefly glimpsed, but is present as a voice-over in some scenes including substantial dialogue. The structure of the film is discontinuous and nonchronological, without a conventional plot, and combines incidents, dreams and memories along with some news-reel footage.[7] The film switches among three different time-frames: prewar (1935), war-time (1940s), and postwar (1960s or '70s).

Mirror draws heavily on Tarkovsky's own childhood. Memories such as the evacuation from Moscow to the countryside during the war, a withdrawn father and his own mother, who actually worked as a proofreader at a printing press, featured prominently.


The film opens with Alexei's adolescent son Ignat switching on a television and watching the examination of a man with a stutter by a physician who finally manages to make her patient say without disruptions: "I can talk". After the opening titles roll, a scene is set in the countryside during prewar times in which Alexei's mother Maria, also called Masha and Marusya, speaks with a doctor who chances to be passing by. The exterior and interior of Alexei's grandfather's country house are seen. The young Alexei, his mother and sister watch as the family barn burns down. In a dream sequence, Maria is washing her hair.

Now in the postwar time-frame, Alexei is heard talking with his mother Maria on the phone while rooms of an apartment are seen. Switching back to the prewar time-frame, Maria is seen rushing frantically to her workplace as a proofreader at a printing press. She is worrying about a mistake she may have overlooked, but is comforted by her colleague Liza (Alla Demidova), who then seemingly reduces her to tears with withering criticism. Back in the postwar period, Alexei quarrels with his ex-wife, Natalia, who has divorced him and is living with their son Ignat. This is followed by newsreel scenes from the Spanish Civil War and of a balloon ascent in the U.S.S.R.

In the next scene, set in Alexei's apartment, Ignat meets with a strange woman sitting at a table. At her request, Ignat reads a passage from a letter by Pushkin and receives a telephone call from his father Alexei. Ignat answers a knock at the door, which turns out to be a woman who says she has the wrong apartment. When Ignat returns to the woman at the table, she has vanished, though the condensation from her teacup momentarily remains. Switching to wartime, the adolescent Alexei is seen undergoing rifle training with a dour instructor, intercut with newsreel footage of World War II and the Sino-Soviet border conflict. Before the war, Maria visits her neighbor with Alexei to seek toiletries. The woman introduces Maria to her son and requests she slaughter a cockerel, which she does.

The reunion of Alexei and his sister with their father at war's end is shown. The film then returns to the quarrel between Alexei and his wife Natalia in the postwar sequence. Switching again to prewar time, vistas of the country house and surrounding countryside are followed by a dreamlike sequence showing a levitating Maria. The film then moves to the postwar time, showing Alexei apparently on his deathbed with a mysterious malady and holding a small bird. The final scene plays in the prewar timeframe, showing a pregnant Maria, intercut with scenes showing Maria young and old. (Old Maria is played by Tarkovsky's own mother, Maria Vishnyakova.)


Several of the characters are played by the same actors.



The concept of Mirror dates as far back as 1964, when Tarkovsky wrote down his idea for a film about the dreams and memories of a man, though without the man appearing on screen as he would in a conventional film. The first episodes of 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 – for example, a 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.[8]

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 metres (24,606 feet) of Kodak film, corresponding to 110 minutes, or roughly three takes assuming a film length of 3000 metres (10,000 feet).[9]

Several versions of the script for Mirror exist, as Tarkovsky constantly rewrote parts of the script, with the latest variant of the script written in 1974 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 camera-man for all of Tarkovsky's previous films refused to work with him on this film.[10] 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 Mirror.[8] (The final film does indeed feature several mirrors with some scenes shot in reflection.)

A poster of Tarkovsky's 1969 film Andrei Rublev is seen on a wall.[11] Mirror is the third film in a series in which Tarkovsky references Andrei Rublev, along with his eponymous 1969 film and Solaris (1972), in which a bust of the painter is seen in the main character's room.[12]


Initially, Tarkovsky considered Alla Demidova and Swedish actress Bibi Andersson for the role of the mother. In the end Margarita Terekhova was chosen.[13]


Principal photography began in late July 1973[14] and ended in March 1974. Outdoor scenes were shot in Tutshkovo near Moscow and the indoor scenes were shot at the Mosfilm studio.[15] The naturalist style of the film required Margarita Terekhova to forego makeup completely.[16]

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. Mirror was ultimately approved by Goskino without any changes in fall 1974.[17]


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 March 1975.

Reception and legacy[edit]

When Mosfilm critics were asked in November 1974 to evaluate Mirror, responses were divided.[18] Some viewed it as a major work that would be better understood upon the analysis of future generations; others dismissed it as an unfocused failure and believed that even more cultured viewers would find its story opaque. This resulted in a very limited distribution.[19] Many audience members walked out of theatrical screenings, but those who approved of the work were ardent in their praise.[20] In a 1975 article for The New York Times, James F. Clarity reported that "in the first round of published reviews, in which some of Mr. Tarkovsky's fellow film makers evaluated his new work, there is much praise, tempered with criticism of some parts of the film."[21] Goskino did not allow it to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The managing director of the festival, Maurice Bessy, was sympathetic to Tarkovsky. Upon hearing that Mirror would not be allowed to be shown in Cannes, he unsuccessfully threatened not to take any other Soviet film.[22]

Mirror has an approval rating of 100% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 17 reviews, and an average rating of 9.21/10.[23]

Mirror is now frequently listed among the greatest films of all time. In a 2012 Sight & Sound directors' poll, Mirror ranked as the 9th greatest film of all time. In a parallel poll by film critics, the film ranks at No. 19. Filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia also included the film in his personal top ten (for The Sight & Sound Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time poll), writing: "Mirror offers epic hypnotherapy and some of the most beautiful celluloid ever shot."[24] While for the same poll, Will Self argued that it remains 'the most beautiful film ever made'.[25] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "a startling piece of film-making" and described many of its images as "transcendentally brilliant".[26] In the British Film Institute, the film is billed as "a work of cumulative, rhythmic effect" and its unconventional narrative is credited with having "pioneered a poetic and richly allusive form."[27] Director Michael Haneke voted for Mirror in the 2002 Sight & Sound directors' poll (where the film ranked at number 16)[28][29] and later said that he has seen the picture at least 25 times.[30][31] In 2002 Critics poll it ranked at number 35.[32] In 2018 the film ranked at number 20 on the BBC's list of the 100 greatest foreign-language films, as voted on by 209 film critics from 43 countries.[33]


While highly acclaimed, Mirror continues to be viewed as enigmatic. Natasha Synessios wrote that it is closer in structure to a musical piece than a narrative film, noting that Tarkovsky himself "always maintained that he used the laws of music as the film's organisational principle...emphasis placed not on the logic, but the form, of the flow of events."[34] Critic Antti Alanen billed the film as a "space odyssey into the interior of the psyche" and Tarkovsky's In Search of Lost Time.[35] Howard Hampton argued that the work's central subject is "the inescapable persistence of the past."[36]


  1. ^ "MIRROR (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 23 January 1980. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  2. ^ Tarkovsky, Andrei; transl. by Kitty Hunter-Blair (1991). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986. Calcutta: Seagull Book. p. 77 (July 11, 1973). ISBN 978-81-7046-083-1.
  3. ^ It is often known in the United States as The Mirror although Tarkovsky's official English translator, Kitty Hunter-Blair, always referred to the film as Mirror, not The Mirror, which was a later innovation unauthorized by the filmmaker.
  4. ^ "Sight & Sound 2012 Polls | BFI". explore.bfi.org.uk. Archived from the original on 16 August 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Sight & Sound Revises Best-Films-Ever Lists". studiodaily. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  6. ^ "...remains today most Russians' favourite Tarkovsky film." Synessios (2001). Tarkovsky himself recounts in Sculpting In Time that Mirror provoked an overwhelming audience response that dwarfed his other movies. He received hundreds of letters expressing in the most movingly intimate terms how the film had made a profound impact on them.
  7. ^ Timo Hoyer: Filmarbeit – Traumarbeit. Andrej Tarkowskij und sein Film "Der Spiegel" ("Serkalo"). In: R. Zwiebel / A. Mahler-Bungers (Hrsg.): Projektion und Wirklichkeit. Die unbewusste Botshaft des Films. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, S. 85–110. ISBN 978-3-525-45179-3.
  8. ^ a b Tarkovsky, Andrei (1999). William Powell (ed.). Collected Screenplays. London: Faber & Faber.
  9. ^ Tarkovsky, Andrei (1991). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986. Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Calcutta: Seagull Book. p. 77 (July 11, 1973). ISBN 978-81-7046-083-1.
  10. ^ Tarkovsky, Andrei (1991). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986. Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Calcutta: Seagull Book. pp. 60–61 (September 17, 1972). ISBN 978-81-7046-083-1.
  11. ^ Cairns, David (16 July 2011). "Mirror". Electric Sheep. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  12. ^ Jones, Jonathan (12 February 2005). "Out of this world". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  13. ^ Tarkovsky, Andrei (1991). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986. Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Calcutta: Seagull Book. p. 41 (August 20, 1971). ISBN 978-81-7046-083-1.
  14. ^ Synessios 2001, p. 27
  15. ^ Tarkovsky, Andrei (1991). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986. Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Calcutta: Seagull Book. pp. 78, 92–93 (September 30, 1973 & March 8, 17, 1974). ISBN 978-81-7046-083-1.
  16. ^ Dmitry Gordon. Маргарита ТЕРЕХОВА: "Рубить голову петуху? С какой стати? Я же артистка, а не этот самый — как его? — живодер" [Margarita Terekhova, "Cut the head of a rooster? For what reason? I'm an actor, and not the - what is it? - flayer "] (in Russian). Bulvar Gordona.
  17. ^ Tarkovsky, Andrei (1991). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986. Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Calcutta: Seagull Book. pp. 96–97 (July 27, 29 & August 1, 1974). ISBN 978-81-7046-083-1.
  18. ^ Steffen, James. "The Mirror". Turner Classic Movies, Inc. Retrieved 9 March 2017. The finished film was widely criticized for being too 'elite' and private for what was supposed to be a 'mass' art form.
  19. ^ Synessios 2001, pp. 114–115.
  20. ^ Synessios 2001, p. 116.
  21. ^ Clarity, James F. (13 April 1975). "NEW FILM STIRS SOVIET AUDIENCE:'Mirror' by Tarkovsky Is Unorthodox and Popular". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  22. ^ Tarkovsky, Andrei (1991). Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970–1986. Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Calcutta: Seagull Book. pp. 106–109 (March 2, April 8, 11, 1975). ISBN 978-81-7046-083-1.
  23. ^ "The Mirror (1975)".
  24. ^ "BFI". www.bfi.org.uk.
  25. ^ "Looking In, Looking Out Film Festival". The Quietus. 27 June 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  26. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (13 August 2004). "Mirror". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  27. ^ "Mirror (1974)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  28. ^ "Sight & Sound 2002 Directors' Greatest Films Poll". listal.com.
  29. ^ "Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll 2002 The Rest of Director's List". old.bfi.org.uk.
  30. ^ "Happy Haneke". The New Yorker.
  31. ^ "Michael Haneke: "Art doesn't offer answers, only questions"". Salon.
  32. ^ "Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll 2002: The rest of the critics' list". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012. Retrieved 24 April 2009.
  33. ^ "The 100 Greatest Foreign Language Films". British Broadcasting Corporation. 29 October 2018. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  34. ^ Redwood 2010, p. 63.
  35. ^ "Antti Alanen". British Film Institute. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  36. ^ "Howard Hampton". British Film Institute. Retrieved 10 March 2017.


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