The Sacrifice Screen 16 articles

The Sacrifice


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  • The new film, I am sad to report, is at best an ordeal of high quality... The murky and somnambulistic central section (in spite of two little incidents: the end of the world and its salvation) is a long, slow dirge. I found it dramatically unconvincing, philosophically simplistic to the point of absurdity, and played out in sets which are maddeningly daint-chic and "pretty."

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    The Village Voice: J. Hoberman
    September 30, 1986 | Vulgar Modernism (pp. 97-99)

    It's less visually spectacular than early Tarkovskys. It lacks the savage splendor of his Russian films or even Nostalghia. The dolly shots have a plush, overstuffed feel; the images are as dainty as porcelain miniatures; the muted color, imperceptively fading in and out, seems overrefined and depressed. Yet the film's cumulative effect is undeniable... By the time two and a half hours have elapsed, the final image... may seem the only crucifix appropriate to this blasted age.

  • It's always visually potent, and the density and extremity of the allegory are humblingly vast by the end. For these reasons, without pretending to get engrossed in it in quite the way I do in Andrei Rublev and several other Tarkovsky films, I don't mind too much that in theme, story, and scale, the movie oscillates between compelling our thunderstruck confidence and testing our patience with unfulfilled promise and highbrow clichés.

  • There are echoes of Bergman (of course) and of Chekhov, and once or twice I found myself thinking, most unexpectedly, of Heartbreak House. But essentially Tarkovsky is a mystic, inescapably drawn to the secrecy and obscurity of divine demand. Beside this awkward boulder of a film, most of the rest looked like pebbles.

  • Alexander`s sacrifice occupies the film`s closing half-hour, but the film itself is in the form of a prayer as Tarkovsky defines it. Working not in the usual format of close-ups and cross-cutting but in extreme long takes that preserve the action in its spatial and temporal integrity, Tarkovsky turns every shot into a ritual, a series of difficult, demanding gestures that must be performed with complete precision.

  • We have to judge the nobility of Alexander's decision, without ever knowing whether he is mad, or drunk, or truly inspired by God. The film has a terrible sincerity, but it is not didactic. It avoids being summed up by a single viewing (by a single review). One has to return to it, and listen for its complex vibrations. What is Tarkovsky saying to us? Is it vital, or not vital, that we hear?

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    The Globe and Mail: Jay Scott
    March 20, 1987 | Great Scott! (pp. 238-240)

    The Sacrifice is long, loaded with longeurs (viewers fight over which bits are boring, just as they fight over what the movie means), and rarely rational and – except for the journey-into-a-soul superstructure – almost never linear. Despite those reservations, it is a magnificent experience: watching it, you can feel Tarkovsky's life ebbing, but with vitality, dignity, candour, concern and, most of all, artistry – "with hope and confidence."

  • Tarkovsky's last film isn't on the same level as his extraordinary Stalker, but it's a fitting apocalyptic statement, made when he knew he was dying of cancer. The first and penultimate shots... manage to say more than most films do over their entire length... As with Nostalghia, Tarkovsky's previous work of exile, it's possible to balk at the filmmaker's pretensions and antiquated sexual politics and yet be overwhelmed by his mastery and originality, as well as the conviction of his sincerity.

  • The Sacrifice is Andrei Tarkovsky's final, visually intoxicating and profoundly spiritual masterpiece about the end of the world... [It's] a devastating, but powerfully reaffirming film on love, humanity, and faith.

  • The burning house would represent not only the culmination of Tarkovsky’s final film but of his life and work as a whole. For within its spectacular – and possibly Zoroastrian – flames the beautiful but gloomy and ultimately paralizing nostalgia, congealed in all those houses that have appeared so insistently in Tarkovsky’s other films, is finally not only dispelled but transfigured, into light, into madness and into laughter through the joyful affirmation of the Moment and of Life.

  • The themes of apocalypse and the redemptive innocence of childhood, of muteness and (holy) madness, of magic, memory, and dreams, are classic Tarkovsky, and the film is full of imagery that recalls THE MIRROR (including a levitating Icelandic witch), STALKER, and NOSTALGHIA. Shot by the great Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist in otherworldly northern light, THE SACRIFICE is bracketed by two of the longest (and riskiest) takes in the history of cinema.

  • Tarkovsky is a forceful visual stylist, so in addition to using all kinds of zooms and slow tracking shots to toy with the flatness of his compositions and sets, he also messes with the division between the theatrically staged scenes and the more free-form dream sequences.

  • It's a grand, unworldly, even antiworldly religious vision that depends on its perfect pitch to avoid absurdity and bathos... The blend of midlife crisis and existential terror is reminiscent of the films of Ingmar Bergman, but Tarkovsky makes it a world of his own. His images have a transcendental glow and a hieratic poise; alternating between contemplative distance and moral confrontation, they assert, in the most radical sense, the high cost of living—the unbearable price of earthly delights.

  • Tarkovsky’s seventh and final film requires of a contemporary audience a contemporary forfeit—for the film to work, for its duration all distractions must be kept at bay. In a way, this is also the challenge facing Alexander (Bergman’s Erland Josephson), once an actor and these days a theatre critic who’s frustrated with the uselessness of words.

  • ...Tarkovsky’s other work of exile was his haunting, supernatural-tinged last film The Sacrifice (1986), shot on the Swedish island of Gotland, and not in his native language. It looks at times like a Bergman film – not surprising given he enlisted Bergman’s brilliant cinematographer Sven Nykvist.

  • What remain are some of the most haunting moments of the director's career: The sudden and uncanny desaturation of the film's image--courtesy of master cinematographer Sven Nykvist--as Erland Josephson roams his estate in a nuclear daze; the flickering TV test pattern reflected on the family in tableau; the film's breathtaking denouement, which never ceases to terrify me. These are the images I return to again and again.

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