The Sacrifice: Remastered Edition (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
July 15, 2011 by Dennis Amith
“The Sacrifice” is the final film from a great filmmaker. And while it may not be Andrei Tarkovsky’s most accessible film for the masses, it’s truly one of his finest films ever created and is indeed another masterpiece in his oeuvre. A must-buy for the cineaste! Highly recommended!
Images courtesy of © 1986 Svenska Filminstitutet, 2011 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Sacrifice: Remastered Edition (offret)
YEAR OF FILM: 1986
DURATION: The Sacrifice (145 min.), Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (99 min.)
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1), Color, 2.0 Mono, Swedish with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Kino International
RELEASE DATE: July 5, 2011
Written and Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Produced by Anna-Lena Wibom
Cinematography by Sven Nykvist
Edited by Michael Leszczylowski, Andrei Tarkovsky
Casting by Claire Denis, Priscila John, Francoise Menidrey
Production Design by Inger Pehrsson
Erland Josephson as Alexander
Susan Fleetwood as Adelaide
Tommy Kjellqvist as Little Man
Allan Edwall as Otto
Guorun Gisladottir as Maria
Sven Wollter as Victor
Valerie Mairesse as Julia
Filippa Franzen as Marta
Famed Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s final masterpiece, The Sacrifice is a haunting vision of a world threatened with nuclear annihilation that inspired Andrew Sarris (The Village Voice) to proclaim, “You may find yourself moved as you have never been moved before.”
As a wealthy Swedish family celebrates the birthday of their patriarch Alexander (Erland Josephson, Cries and Whispers), news of the outbreak of World War III reaches their remote Baltic island — and the happy mood turns to horror. The family descends into a state of psychological devastation, brilliantly evoked by Tarkovsky’s arresting palette of luminous greys washing over the bleak landscape around their home. (The film’s masterful cinematography is by Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman’s longtime collaborator).
For Alexander, a philosopher troubled about man’s lack of spirituality, the prospect of certain extinction compels the ultimate sacrifice, and he enters into a Faustian bargain with God to save his loved ones from the fear which grips them. The director’s last film, made as he was dying of cancer, The Sacrifice is Tarkovsky’s personal statement, a profoundly moving, redemptive tragedy steeped in unforgettable imagery and heart-wrenching emotion.
Also featured in this special 2-disc set is Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, a film by Michal Leszczylowski, who was the editor of The Sacrifice. During his collaboration with Tarkovsky, their relationship grew into an enduring friendship. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky is a making-of documentary and an homage in one film, a fluid and captivating work that presents both the brooding and the playful sides of a genius.
For one of the finest filmmakers of the 20th Century, Andrei Tarkovsky worked on one final film before he died of lung cancer, the film was “offret” (“The Sacrifice”) which he shot back in 1984.
The Russian filmmaker is known for cinema masterpiece such as “Ivan’s Childhood”, “Andrei Rublev”, “Solaris”, “The Mirror”, “Nostalghia” to name a few.
Films that were characterized by spirituality and metaphysical themes, Tarkovsky was not too concerned with the dramatic structure or plot but mainly about the universe within man. He is also known for his distinct style of cinematography and even impressed another of the world’s finest cinematographers, Ingmar Bergman.
Bergman said of Tarkovsky, “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
Interesting enough, his final film “The Sacrifice” would showcase Tarkovsky’s appreciation for Ingmar Bergman and the film would be shot in Sweden and would star Erland Johnson (of Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage”), Anna Asp (Production Designer for Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander”) and would feature one of the finest cinematographer’s Sven Nykvist (Bergman’s cinematographer for films such as “Fanny and Alexander”, “Through a Glass Darkly”, “The Silence”, “Persona”, “Cries and Whispers”, “Scenes from a Marriage”, “Black Moon” and “The Virgin Spring”, Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant” and Louis Malle’s “Black Moon” to name a few). In fact, Bergman’s son Danny Bergman also worked as a camera assistant.
The film would win a Grand Prix and FIPRESCI PRIZE at the 1986 Cannes film Festival and would be regarded as Tarkovsky’s final masterpiece.
And now, “The Sacrifice” will be released in a remastered edition on Blu-ray courtesy of KINO International and will also include a DVD of Michael Leszcylowski’s documentary “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky” which showcases Tarkovsky working on the “The Sacrifice” featuring interviews and extracts from Tarkovsky’s book “Sculpting in Time” and more.
The film begins with an atheist/psychologist and writer named Alexander (played by Erland Josephson) explaining to his son known as “Little Man” (played by Tommy Kjellqvist) his feelings about life, the world and also about watering a dead tree to make it come back to life.
He is visited by one of his neighbors in the village named Otto (played by Allan Edwall) and we learn that family will be celebrating Alexander’s birthday.
As Otto is sitting with his child and explaining to him how they found the house that they currently live at, “Little Man” goes missing and Alexander goes looking for him but accidentally knocking his son and giving him a bloody nose. But suddenly, Alexander collapses and we see an image of a post-apocalyptic world that is lifeless.
When Alexander comes to, he is joined by his wife Adelaide (played by Susan Fleetwood), his daughter Marta (played by Filippa Franzen), his doctor Victor (played by Sven Wollter) and Otto. The doctor tries to keep track of Alexander’s health due to his cancer.
But the person that is quite intriguing is Otto as they find out that he is a teacher and part-time postman but also his life’s work and that is being a collector. Not of tangible objects but of moments (which he goes on to explain to the family and what sounds quite supernatural, others think that he is joking or crazy).
But the party is short as the news is announced that World War III has begun and we suddenly see the demeanor of the family change for the worst. Planes start to rock everything inside the house and things fall off and break. Adelaide loses her composure and immediately collapses into hysteria, crying and screaming and wanting to tell their son about what will happen to the world.
Seeing how his family has changed for the worst and fear that they may be killed because of the war, the atheist makes his first prayer to God and is willing to sacrifice all that he loves (his family and his home) to keep them safe and not having to go through this whole ordeal.
Then one day, he is visited by a man (Otto) who tells Alexander that in order to make things better, he must sleep with his housekeeper Maria, a woman that is a witch but if he is able to go through with it, his prayer will be answered.
Will it happen?
For the documentary “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky”, the documentary features a behind-the-scenes look at Tarkovsky and him working on the set. Seeing him wanting the look and feel to be right with production design, wanting to capture various scenes that he has envisioned and working with his talent and cinematographer via translator. In one scene, for the final shot, the camera jammed and while producers felt they could edit the scene to make things look right, Tarkovsky was a man of little compromise and eventually, a home that was burned down was rebuilt in days in order to reshoot that final scene.
The documentary also shows us an Andrei Tarkovsky, bedridden due to his cancer but still working on the film and communicating with his cinematographer Sven Nykvist and watching his wife talk about her husband’s work. The documentary by Michal Lesczylowsi and the Swedish Film Institute tries to show us the filmmaker and his thinking process while making the film and giving us insight of Tarkovsky’s mindset at the time and his view towards his cinema and life.
“The Sacrifice” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1) and the film is hauntingly beautiful. Visually mesmerizing and one magnificent collaboration between Tarkovsky and Bergman’s cinematographer Sven Nykvist. The film is desaturated, blacks and whites tend to dominate the film, while outdoors, the look and feel of the outdoors looks bleak or dreamlike. Because of the look of the film, many viewers often debated about the film’s reality vs. dream/nightmare.
Is everything we are looking at in reality or something that is within the mind of Alexander? It was a look and feel that Tarkovsky wanted and to accomplish that look, color and black-and-white duplicate negatives were struck from the color camera negative and combined in an optical printer to produce the saturation for those scenes. The overall look of the outdoors, especially towards the first half of the film is quite eery and ethereal as we see trees that are black, in fact, even the shadows indoors looks quite eery as we can barely see the faces of individuals in which shadows cover their faces and making them look quite brooding.
But the cinematography is so wonderful to look at on Blu-ray and while there are scenes, especially during the black moments of the film which you can see a few speckles and also a hint of edge enhancement. But this is the definitive version of the film yet and if you thought the original DVD version showcased Nykvist’s cinematography, one must see this film in HD. Magnificent!
As for the documentary “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky”, this documentary was presented in DVD (full frame 1:33:1). So, one can expect a similar transfer to the previous KINO DVD release.
“The Sacrifice” is presented in Swedish Linear PCM 2.0 and with optional English subtitles. I did notice occasional clicks and pops during the silent moments of the film but by no means does it distract from the film. While the film is definitely dialogue-driven, I did notice certain scenes that do stand out, such as the sounds of the airplanes flying in the air, the crash of the milk container on the ground, leaves crunching and various ambiance still contained in the 2.0 front channel soundtrack. Personally, I wanted the soundtrack to be much more immersive, so I did set my receiver to produce sound on all channels for a more immersive soundscape. Even the music sounds wonderful!
As for “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky”, the documentaryis presented in 2.0 mono in Russian and Swedish with optional English subtitles.
“The Sacrifice: Remastered Edition” comes with a DVD of the 99 minute documentary “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky” plus past trailers of Kino Russian films and also a gallery of photos from “The Sacrifice” and “Directed by Andrei Tarkosky”.
“The Sacrifice: Remastered Edition” comes with a slipcase.
When it comes to Tarkovsky films, I look at these films as magnificent cinema from a filmmaker who tries to escape the banality of traditional cinema by doing things his own way, his vision, his style, no compromises.
From trademark Tarkovsky, the films opening discussion and tracking shot between Alexander, his son and Otto lasts for nine-and-a-half minutes and the final shot that involves Alexander takes six-and-a-half minutes. There are not many filmmakers who would be able to get away that but with Tarkovsky, we know he loves long takes.
When watching “The Sacrifice”, it’s easy to get lost in the film’s beautiful cinematography but if you go deeper, there are things that make you wonder about the film and how personal the film was for Tarkovsky.
It’s one thing to have Tarkovsky’s style of filmmaking and his passion of paying attention to the conflict of man but at the same time, we know that like the main protagonist Alexander, Tarkovsky was also sick and had cancer and would later succumb to the cancer in 1986.
The film goes into “unfinished” works of Da Vnci (“The Adoration of the Magi”) Bach’s aria “Erbarme dich” from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and were these integrated into the film just in case something was to happen to Tarkovsky and this film could have been “unfinished”? For one, we do know that the final scene of the film, without a major scene that involved Alexander, in Tarkovsky’s mind, it was a pivotal scene that was lost due to the camera’s mechanical failure and it would have made “The Sacrifice” in his mind, not complete. But thanks to his producers, they were able to rebuild a house and reshoot the scene.
But what struck me about “The Sacrifice” was not its plot, its how the characters were utilized for the shot. Tarkovsky has always been a filmmaker who has talked about not wanting to focus so much on the dramatic events of the plot but more of the psyche of the characters.
In one scene, we see the maid Maria asking if her boss Adelaide needs anything done before she goes. And we see Adelaide say not much but then begins to add one thing after the other. Maria has this look in her eyes as she talks directly to the camera, to the audience. Almost like a touch of Godard-esque filmmaking but in this case, the efficacy of the scene felt quite eery, angry.
Go to the another scene involving the character of Adelaide reacting to news about World War II and there is no escape. Actress Susan Fleetwood crumbles into hysteria and it was a scene that was for me, quite surprising. Is Adelaide over-hysterical or is this more personal as Tarkovsky’s second wife Larisa has been written to have had her fair share of hysterics.
And then there are memorable scenes from the jar of milk crashing down on the floor, Alexander’s teen daughter and seeing her silhouette of her walking naked, Otto collapsing after explaining his life’s work and the expression of everyone when he tells them that an evil spirit has pushed him down.
And of course, the cinematography of the trees…saturated, black upon a white/gray background. A scene of a burning house in flames. A scene of levitation. There are many scenes that stick out in my mind that made “The Sacrifice” so enjoyable and unique in its own way.
Combine these scenes with philosophy (which adds to another element of replay value for this film) and visual art, “The Sacrifice” is indeed a film that is another masterpiece for Andrei Tarkovsky.
Those familiar with Tarkovsky’s work and those who appreciate cinema (especially those who enjoy Ingmar Bergman’s work) will find “The Sacrifice” to be a wonderful film while those who are used to formulaic, traditional style of storytelling may find “The Sacrifice” too artistic for their liking.
As for the Blu-ray release, if you enjoyed this film before, you’ll definitely enjoy it in HD as it looks much better than its previous DVD-counterpart. In fact, the film looks stunning on Blu-ray and I was impressed by how much better it looked compared to the original DVD release.
And while I know there are new fans of Tarkovsky who probably began with the recent Blu-ray release of “Solaris”, may find this Blu-ray release to their liking, especially with the added inclusion of the documentary “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky”. The additional inclusion of the documentary is a major plus and definitely makes this Blu-ray release a must-own for any cineaste.
“The Sacrifice” is the final film from a great filmmaker. And while it may not be Andrei Tarkovsky’s most accessible film for the masses, it’s truly of of his finest films ever created and is indeed another masterpiece in his oeuvre. Highly recommended!
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