For some reason, when I started out on the Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective, I took to writing italicised plot synopses as preambles to the articles proper. You'll notice there isn't one for 'Mirror'. There's a reason for this: the film isn't about anything.
Well, actually it is. It's about childhood and memory and the intensely personal interplay of the two in Tarkovsky's own life. 'Mirror' was immensely important and meaningful to him. In 'Time Within Time', Kitty Hunter-Blair's translation of his diaries from 1970 - 1986, he repeatedly dwells on the necessity of making it, every reference steeped in the nostalgia of his own past. Even while he's ostensibly busy working on 'Solaris', his thoughts are consumed with making 'Mirror'.
However, for all that I've read 'Time Within Time' and have a slightly-better-than-average working knowledge of Tarkovsky's family history and working life, I must confess that 'Mirror' doesn't mean much at all to me.
Werner Herzog once described the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard as "intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film". Of Tarkovsky himself, the Bavarian maverick had this to say: "[he] made some beautiful films but he is, I fear, too much the darling of the French intellectuals, something I suspect he worked a little bit towards". I'm very much inclined to agree with Herzog on the evidence of 'Mirror'. Every frame of it screams "art film".
As a viewing experience, I find 'Mirror' too insubtantial in its construct and enigmatic in tone - and deliberately so - to engage with it on any level. It never coheres, either narratively (which in itself is no big deal: Tarkovsky was never big on narrative anyway) or in terms of the kind of internal logic which lends, say, David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' a sense of structure and completeness in and of itself even though individual set-pieces may be baffling and the denouement less a conclusion than an ouroboros.
I wonder how much Lynch is influenced by Tarkovsky. In its weirder moments, 'Mirror' puts me in mind of Lynch's erratic genius - particularly Tarkovsky's conjuration of a rural environment in which the commonplace is suddenly disturbed by a burning barn, a chicken killed for the pot becomes a statement on the loss of innocence, and gusts of wind through long grass seem mysterious and portentous. He also seems to have influenced Hideo Nakata: the best scene in the film (a black-and-white dream sequence) conjures an image that suggests Sadaka in 'The Ring' has Russian ancestry.
These are images redolent of bad dreams and proof positive of Tarkovsky's ability to achieve a sense of the dream-like on screen. Elsewhere, though, 'Mirror' is curiously flat, Georgiy Rerberg's cinematography bland in comparison to Vadim Yusov's work on 'Ivan's Childhood', 'Andrei Rublev' and 'Solaris'. It's an irony coloured darker by the compromised circumstances in which Tarkovsky made virtually all of his films, and one I'd rather not dwell on. I want to like 'Mirror', believe me. I want to find in its pastoral reveries an evocation of childhood that is timeless and universal, one that acts as a corollary to the too-soon-ended childhood depicted in his first film. But I'm afraid I find 'Mirror' an artily self-conscious and inscrutable film and the irony remains that Tarkovsky's most personal film - the one closest to his own life - is also his most lifeless.