Nostalghia (4K UHD)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay: Andrei Tarkovsky & Tonino Guerra
Stars: Oleg Yankovskiy (Andrei Gorchakov), Erland Josephson (Domenico), Domiziana Giordano (Eugenia), Patrizia Terreno (Andrei’s Wife), Laura De Marchi (Chambermaid), Delia Boccardo (Domenico’s Wife), Milena Vukotic (Civil Servant)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1983
Country: Italy / Soviet Union
Nostalghia 4K UHD

Nostalghia, Andrei Tarkovsky’s penultimate film, is also one of the great Russian director’s most personal works, as its story of a Russian poet’s struggle with feelings of intense isolation and dislocation in a foreign country mirrored Tarkovsky’s own. Shot entirely in Italy, Nostalghia was Tarkovsky’s first of only two films he made outside of the Soviet Union, and he noted in his book Sculpting in Time about how his own sense of displacement infused every frame he shot. He was, in fact, startled when he initially saw the footage, as he recognized “how accurately [his] mood while making the film was transferred onto the screen: a profound and increasingly wearing sense of bereavement.”

For Tarkovksy, the film’s title had a special meaning far beyond and even in conflict with the typical understanding of the word “nostalgia” as a sentimental longing for a past, one that is often imagined as better than it actually was. Tarkovsky’s nostalgia was uniquely Russian, and he saw it as a “state of mind” that is a key component of Russian identity. In Sculpting in Time, he described it as “the fatal attachment of Russians to their national roots, their past, their culture, their native places, their families and friends; an attachment which they carry with them all their lives, regardless of where destiny may fling them.” Tarkovsky felt this sense of nostalgia himself, although the true irony of the film is the fact that he was not yet fully an exile when he was making it, as it wouldn’t be until the year after Nostalghia was released that he announced he would never return to the Soviet Union—which he never did (he was officially declared a Soviet defector in 1985 and he died a year later in Paris of lung cancer).

As with so many of his previous films, Tarkovsky battled with the Soviet authorities to get the Nostalghia made. When Mosfilm backed out halfway through production, Tarkovsky had to seek additional financial backing from the Italian production company RAI. And, to add insult to injury, when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, the Soviet delegation lobbied against the film winning the Palm d’Or (the delegation was headed by Sergei Bondarchuk, star and director of War and Peace [1967], who had already been bestowed with the honorary title of People’s Artist of the USSR). And, while it did not win the top prize, it was awarded Best Director (which Tarkovsky shared with Robert Bresson for L’Argent), the FIPRESCI Prize (which it shared with Pál Sándor’s Daniel Takes a Train), and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, making it the most decorated film at that year’s festival.

Tarkovksy embodies this “fatal attachment” in his protagonist, Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovskiy), who is on an extended trip to Italy to research the life of the 18th-century Russian composer Pavel Sosnovsky, who lived most of his life in exile in Italy only to commit suicide when he returned to Russia. Andrei is travelling with a woman named Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano), who works as his translator and is clearly smitten with him even though he feels no attraction to her (it is not so much that he is committed to his off-screen wife, but rather than he is so consumed with his own ennui and dislocation that he can’t feel attraction to anyone or anything). In the small Tuscan villa where Andrei is researching, they come across a man named Domenico (Erland Josephson), who is shunned by the other residents because of his past. As Andrei learns, Domenico had been committed to a mental institution and had previously locked his family inside their house for seven years, fearing that if they left it would mean the end of the world. Domenico’s absolute commitment to his delusion contrasts with Andrei’s lack of commitment to anything, which explains why Andrei is so drawn to him.

Tarkovsky had said that he didn’t want to make another “travelogue,” one of those beautifully composed films that focuses on the famous parts of Italy (in fact, he scrapped the film’s original title because it sounded too close to Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy [1954]). Instead, he wanted to portray the country as alien, which he does brilliantly in the film’s opening sequence, which turns a mist-enshrouded field in the Italian countryside into a landscape that might very well be on a distant planet. Similarly, the ancient locations, usually conveyed as monuments to the greatness of the past, here feel dark and foreboding, relics of an era that Andrei can never fully understand or appreciate because it is not his. They are more like the lethal ruins in Stalker (1979) than the grand edifices immortalized in history books.

Working with cinematographer Giuseppe Lanci, who was then early in his career, Tarkovsky visually realizes Andrei’s emotional state via a constant ethereal fog, long tracking shots, and a languorous pace that forces us to take in the details of the physical environs and struggle with them as Andrei does. Tarkovsky’s screenplay, which he cowrote with the prolific Italian writer Tonino Guerra (best known for his numerous collaborations with Michelangelo Antonioni), eschews anything resembling conventional plot development for an intense focus on Andrei’s character; for Tarkovsky, plot was always secondary to his character’s interior struggles, and the former usually played primarily as an evocation of the latter. If Nostalghia doesn’t pack quite the same level of visceral emotional and philosophical power as some of his previous films, most notably Solaris (1972) and Stalker, it is nevertheless a singular work of cinematic art, one that is all the more meaningful the more you know about Tarkovsky’s own ennui. However, its effects are not limited to their connection to the filmmaker’s biography or his understanding of Russian identity, as it will ring true to anyone who has ever felt out of place.

Nostalghia 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.66:1
  • Italian / Russian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Voyage in Time (1983) documentary
  • Audio commentary by film historian Daniel Bird
  • Video interview with director of photography Giuseppe Lanci
  • Re-release trailer
  • DistributorKino Lorber
    Release DateMarch 26, 2024

    Kino Lorber’s 4K UHD release of Nostalghia features a new master by the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia–Cineteca Nazionale, which was made from a 4K scan of the original 35mm negative. I have not seen Nostalghia in any of its earlier DVD or Blu-ray incarnations, but I can’t imagine that they look nearly as good as what we have here. The film opens with a screen that informs us: “The restoration … was carried out in 2022 by the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia–Cineteca Nazionale starting from the scene and soundtrack negatives made available by Rai Cinema S.p.A. The film’s director of photography Giuseppe Lanci supervised the color correction work.” So, I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb here to suggest that this is a definitive presentation of the film. Nostalghia has always been problematic for home video presentation because of the constant, immense amounts of mist and fog present throughout the film, which tend to wreak havoc on digital transfers and wind up mired in artifacting and noise. Such is not the case here, as the 2160p image manages all that visual moisture extremely well, giving us a beautifully rendered, filmlike image that maintains texture and grain and plenty of fine detail. The overall color palette of the film is largely desaturated, and there are numerous sequences that play out in black-and-white (this may explain why the disc does not feature HDR, neither HDR10 nor Dolby Vision). It all looks natural and beautiful, providing a wonderfully cinematic experience. The original two-channel stereo soundtrack is presented in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix using the original Italian and Russian dialogue. Everything sounds clean and clear with a modest degree of separation that feels right for the film.

    As for supplements, this should really be billed as a double feature since it includes the entirety of the 62-minute behind-the-scenes documentary Voyage in Time (1983), which Tarkovksy co-directed with his co-screenwriter Tonino Guerra. It is primarily about their scouting locations for the film shoot, but it provides amazing insight into Tarkovsky’s process and what goes into making a film like Nostalghia. Kino’s disc also features an insightful new commentary by film historian and filmmaker Daniel Bird, a new video interview with cinematographer Giuseppe Lanci, and a re-release trailer.

    Copyright © 2024 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Kino Lorber

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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