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Film / Nostalghia

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Nostalghia is a 1983 film from Italy directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

Andrei, a Russian writer, is in Italy researching the life of 18th century (fictional) Russian composer Pavel Sosnovsky, who spent time in Northern Italy before returning to Russia and accepting life as a serf—before he killed himself, that is. Accompanied by Eugenia, a good-looking interpreter (even though his Italian is pretty good), Andrei makes his way to the village of Bagno Vignoni in Tuscany, famous for its hot spring mineral pool, where Sosnovsky stayed.

He seems to be not all that interested in his research, however. He gets distracted by one Domenico, a sort of "holy fool" written off as insane by all the townsfolk. It seems that some time ago, Domenico held his whole family prisoner in their home for seven years while he awaited the end of the world. The world didn't end, eventually Domenico's family escaped. Now he lives alone in the crumbling, leaking ruin of his home, talking about the end of the world. He gives Andrei a candle, and a task to save the world: carry the candle across the mineral pool, while keeping it lit.

Tarkovsky's first film outside of Russia and the next-to-last film he made before his death from cancer.


  • Art Shift: Most of the film is in color, except for Andrei's memories of his wife and family and their Russian homestead, or Domenico's memory of his family's escape. Those are in black and white.
  • Author Avatar: Andrei is basically a stand-in for Andrei Tarkovsky, being an artist away from Russia who yearns to return to his homeland. (Tarkovsky had recently defected to the West after years of struggling to get movies through Soviet censors.)
  • Call-Back: Relatively early in the film, Domenico asks Andrei for a cigarette, then reflects that asking for a cigarette is something you do when you don't have anything to say. In her last line of dialogue Eugenia tells her new lover, who seems indifferent to her, that she's going out for cigarettes.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Eugenia is reading a book of poetry by Arseny Tarkovsky, father of director Andrei Tarkovsky.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: In this film, people wander around a lot and talk about life and faith and madness and What It All Means.
  • Creepy Doll: If you're a weirdo zealot who lives in a house that is literally falling apart, what do you decorate with? Naturally you decorate with a creepy picture of the head and torso of a creepy doll, without hair to make it creepier. Later, that same doll is shown after it was fished out of the drained mineral pool.
  • Disturbed Doves: One odd scene has a woman in a church praying to the Virgin Mary, only to rip open an effigy of her and free a flock of birds, which fly out.
  • Dying Dream: One possible interpretation of the ending. As Andrei schleps his candle back and forth across the pool, he seems to start feeling poorly, gasping and looking wobbly. As he finally sets his candle down on the far side, he gasps loudly and disappears from the frame. Then there's a shot of his wife in the pool as a man is seen climbing down the far end and dashing towards the camera. Then the final Gainax Ending shot of Andrei's Russian homestead in the church.
  • Fan Disservice: Eugenia pulls back her shirt to reveal a round, full breast for the camera—while yelling at Andrei that men are pigs.
  • Gainax Ending: The last shot, after Andrei has carried his candle across and possibly died, shows Andrei in his Russian homestead, in black-and-white. And the entire homestead is ensconced within the nave of the Abbey of San Galgano.
  • Match Cut: Almost a literal one, as the film cuts from Domenico's burning corpse after his Self-Immolation, to Andre flicking his lighter and lighting the little candle.
  • Monochrome Past: The flashbacks to Andrei's home in Russia, and Domenico's flashback to his family's escape, are in black and white.
  • The Oner: Like many of Tarkovsky's works, this film has a lot of long takes, often with the camera tracking or zooming slowly, in which little or nothing happens. The most famous one is the scene at the end where the camera follows Andrei in Real Time, without a cut, for nine minutes as he tries to walk all the way across the pool without letting the candle go out. There is also a shot which lasts over four minutes, with the camera zooming in very slowly, as Andrei slumps over and falls asleep on his bed.
  • Scenery Porn: Tuscany, everybody! Rolling, verdant green hills! Although these are often broken up with interior shots of Andrei in moldy, partially flooded old ruins.
  • Self-Immolation: After Domenico gives his speech about how the sane and the insane must come together, that it's the sane who have brought the world to the brink of destruction, he douses himself with gasoline and lights a match. He has time enough to climb down from the large equestrian statue he's sitting on, before he collapses and dies in the square.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: As a burning, dying Domenico climbs down from the statue following his Self-Immolation, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" kicks up on the soundtrack. This is then subverted when the soundtrack distorts and stops as if someone grabbed a record player, followed by the sounds of Domenico screaming in agony.
  • Voiceover Letter: Eugenia reads a letter from the composer Sosnovsky about how he yearns to return to Russia.