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-out 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 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 concerns 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. Therefore, I possess only the most perfunctory perspective on his work, and you probably wasted your time reading this review (oops, 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.