Moskovskaya elegiya (1987)


(director/writer: Alexander Sokurov; cinematographer: Aleksandr Burov; cast: Andrei Tarkovsky, Tonino Guerra, Alexander Sokurov (Narrator); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; Facets; 1987-Russia-in Russian and Italian with English subtitles)
It’s a don’t miss film for fans of the deceased director.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An elusive and emotionally wrought thinking man’s biopic on the late great exiled Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, who died of cancer at age 54, in 1987, in Paris. It has little biographical content, but offers its brooding deep love for the deceased just after his death. The director, Alexander Sokurov (“Elegy of a Voyage”/”Mother and Son”/”Moloch”),was mentored by his fellow Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky and is his spiritual heir, and in this meditation on his fellow mystic filmmaker wishes to mostly let us see him as a reluctant exile in the West during his final years. Tarkovsky left his beloved Russia because there was no work for him there.

The highly personal film captures the man’s essence rather than the biographical details of his life. It shows his humble 13th floor apartment in Moscow, his family’s country home, the elaborate national funeral procession for the rigid Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow compared to the small funeral drawing mostly artists for the more interesting and humane Tarkovsky in Paris, footage from his films such as Nostalghia (which was shot in Italy, in 1982), The Mirror, and his final film made in Sweden called The Sacrifice (1986), and there’s even a rare clip of him as an actor in the 1963 film The Gates of Ilyich. We see glimpses of his second wife, his sons, photographs of his dead mother and his poet father, and how he acted on the set while shooting in 1985 The Sacrifice on the windy island of Gotland.

It’s a don’t miss film for fans of the deceased director, others might take to the filmmaker’s ongoing struggle to create art despite pressures from the bureaucratic Soviets and the difficulties to raise money to shoot in the West. If you’re expecting to see a straight-forward biopic with the usual laundry list of accomplishments and talking heads, you’ve gotten hold of the wrong DVD.