A persecuted poet gone rogue, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky couldn’t bring himself to return to Soviet Moscow after tasting the Tuscan countryside and making two films there, including this one. That’s not to say Nostalghia is some kind of epicurean bliss-out: It’s actually about a severe mope of an academic (Oleg Yankovskiy, blank yet compelling), who is bored by all the fog-shrouded vistas he sees. Instead, he hopes to research an obscure composer’s life. You wait for him to perk up in the company of his gorgeous interpreter, Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano), who only wants to have sex with him but eventually tires of his aloofness. “You dress badly,” she spits, the ultimate insult in Italy. Our hero doesn’t react. Maybe Tarkovsky hadn’t left home after all.
Even by the director’s glacial standard, very little happens (which makes a late-inning self-immolation particularly bonkers)—and still, you might find yourself hooked. No one makes movies like this anymore. Spirituality and existential dislocation can be teased out of the margins by those who want those things to be there, but Nostalghia is really about dank pools of bubbling springs, decaying ruins and the incessant plink of dripping water accompanying distant voices. It’s a mood piece that makes you feel like you’re drowning in high-grade art swill. If that sounds oppressive, know that it is, but the tonic is invigorating: a clammy atmosphere so unlike the airless options Hollywood’s about to spring on us.
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