e street film society


The Sacrifice (1986; Dir.: Andrei Tarkovsky)


By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Thursday, January 11, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and at the PFA in Berkeley.

Full disclosure: although the perfectly washed-0ut colors of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice have been given a faithful 4K restoration, my viewing experience was less than perfect.  Thanks to an unreliable viewing platform and spotty, rainy-day wi-fi, I had to split the film over two days, not exactly ideal viewing conditions for such a challenging film.  Set in a marshy, desolately beautiful, Bergman-esque Sweden and shot by Bergman’s longtime cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Tarkovsky’s harshly meditative swan song is about a spiritually detached drama teacher (Erland Josephson) and his extended family confronting their demons as nuclear holocaust descends from the sky (the set-up and milieu, if not the tone and style, recall Bergman’s Shame).  Another, more humbling admission: The Sacrifice is the only the second film I’ve seen by Tarkovsky, the legendary Russian filmmaker who died the same year that this final effort premiered, so I possess only the most perfunctory perspective on his work, and you probably wasted your time reading this review (sorry about that).  All I know is that I was fascinated by the unusual elements on display – the inscrutable story structure, the deceptively complex long takes, the way that clashing visual and narrative philosophies bleed into each other with a dreamlike logic – and that I want more.