Reader-submitted review, contributed by Gonzalo Blasco, Spain:

Moscow Elegy (1988)

Original title: Moskovskaya Elegiya
Directed by Alexander Sokurov
87 min / 35 mm

Screened 4-Jun-03 at Cine Doré, Filmoteca Española, Madrid, Spain

This is my first experience with a Sokurov film, and although it was not a disappointment, neither did I find it to be a masterpiece.

Elegy is a 90-minute collage of material from various documentaries and from Tarkovsky's films, with some new additions made by Sokurov. It is mainly a look at the different places where Tarkovsky lived: his childhood house, where he spent his early years while his father was away, his first own home, and finally the house in Moscow where he spent his last years in URSS, when he already was a professional film-maker.

The visual impression of the opening footage is one of slow pacing, and with no motion within the film frame. Only a dog is seen at Tarkovsky home. No people, no interviews and only continuous "sacred" music on the audio track. Original material include footage of the Russian countryside in winter, pretty images of rivers under snowing, trees, woods and more snow everywhere.

For the duration of the film, an offscreen voice informs you what the images are, expressed with deep melancholy. Sokurov expresses his art and feelings towards Tarkovsky, adding color to low quality video material taken from various sources. First Sacrifice, then Chris Marker's Documentary (A Day in the Life...), the Tonino Guerra documentary (Tempo), and images from the shooting of Sacrifice. We don't know whether or not Sokurov had access to other material beside these poor-quality tapes, but he uses them all the time. He also uses excerpts from Mirror and Nostalghia, and a rare interview where a young Tarkovsky explains that art should change the life of the person who lives it.

Sokurov shows his admiration towards Tarkovsky showing us "a Man." While Tarkovsky speaks and moves everywhere, in Guerra's film, Sokurov simply translate his words in Italian, and invites the viewer to simply observe "the man," almost as a sort of an Idol. Then he shuts off the audio, retaining only the music, inviting us to study his gestures. A speaking Tarkovsky is converted into a piece of art in itself, clearly done in deep admiration.

Sokurov several times compares the old Tarkovsky of the eighties to the young Tarkovsky. Exploring his past, sometimes with the footage of his past residences, sometimes with old photos, other times with clips from Mirror. He also shows us a funny scene from the 1962 film The house of Ilitch [1], and a rare interview.

The 1982 situation is also referenced in the film. 1982 was the year when Tarkovsky left Russia for the West. Sokurov uses all his artistic talent filming Moscow airport. The camera, in a subjective shot, follows his last steps in Russia, accompanied by emotionally charged sacred music. 1982, also the year of Breznev's death. Thousands and thousands of people in a row waiting to give their last respect. Sokurov doesn't make any political statement here at all. But... the viewer will respond in his or her own way.

I suppose Moskovskaya Elegiya can quickly become boring, as original footage is sparse, and the artistic tinting of the low-quality video sources tend to further blur Tarkovsky's face,... For several minutes, the words of Tarkovsky are not translated (during images of the Sacrifice shooting) and seems that Sokurov only tries to show his "beloved" in an elegaic tone, not much more. I.e., it seems that it is not important what he is doing during the shooting, it is only important to observe his gestures, his laughs, and his hands moving everywhere.

Sokurov says in a interview with Giovanni Buttafava in Rotterdam [2]: "Elegy is a praise song, a song to remind one of something that has since disappeared, a Mass in honour of something that is no longer among us [...]. Perhaps Art can be defined as a continuous Elegy, with many varied facets."

This film, is exactly that. No more, no less. Deeply grave, Tarkovsky "the Man", is shown on the screen. Perhaps long, perhaps boring. But exactly that: an elegy.

The film ends with images of the funeral in the Alexander Nevsky cathedral of Paris, with Rostropovich. And French TV news.... "Tarkovsky has died." The camera wanders in an empty house, in a room, a fireplace is burning, no one is there, only a photograph in black & white of Tarkovsky's grave. Bach. And the final scene of Mirror... And the camera returns back into the forest...


[1] In this film Tarkovsky acts in a curious scene. Action takes place inside a house wherein there is a cheerful meeting taking place. A girl says that she is going to cook potatoes and turnips for all. Someone cheerfully makes a toast to the Potatoes. Someone reprimands the person for his lack of seriousness, "drinking for potatoes." The conversation turns serious... You should drink for serious things! The other one says in a grave manner, "I can drink for the International, I can drink for the soldiers fallen in the war, and I will drink to the potatoes which save our people from hunger." In this so grave situation, Tarkovsky exclaims cheerfully: "eeeh, and what about the turnips?!"... and a very emotional girl promptly slaps Tarkovsky across the face, and starts to cry. It is a funny scene, seeing in the distance the political situation versus the sense of humour of the Tarkovsky character.

[2] "The Last Elegy", interview of Giovanni Buttafava, in "Lenfilm and the liberation of Soviet Cinema", Tigjer reeks 4, Films Festival Rotterdam, 1990.

The above synopsis/review was contributed by Gonzalo Blasco. Note that opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of webmasters. Those who are able to read Spanish should check out Gonzalo Blasco's own impressive Tarkovsky web site, where much detailed information on the films of Tarkovsky may be found. Gonzalo Blasco is also webmaster of, an up-to-date and comprehensive information source for Spanish speakers about Andrei Tarkovski. It also has an interesting English section.

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