Andrey Tarkovsky's final film , 1986's The Sacrifice, is an interesting swansong for the writer/director who Ingrid Bergman once declared to be the 'greatest director.' Interesting it is then, that this final film was shot on the Swedish island of Faro using Bergman's favorite cinematographer, Sven Nykist and starred Bergman regular leading man Erland Josephson.
The 'story' per se is a decidedly simple one. The film follows Alexander (Erland Josephson), a kindly aging man about to celebrate his birthday, and his pretty younger wife, Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood), as they come to terms with the fact that a nuclear war is going to happen any day now. They care very much for their two children, adult Marta (Filippa Franzen) and young 'Little Man' (Tommy Kjellqvist), the latter of whom Alexander tries to teach about spirituality and purpose in a world that seemingly has neither. The father and son symbolically plant a tree together as a statement of their commitment to try and improve their world and their lives and while out doing this they meet up with Otto (Allan Edwall), a philosophical mailman who later attends Alexander's birthday party.
At the party, Otto gives Alexander a map from ancient times and the party is joined by a friend named Victor (Sven Wollter), Alexander's maid Julia (Valerie Mairesse), and another woman employed in the home named Maria (Gudun S. Gísladóttir), an Icelandic immigrant. As the threat of nuclear war becomes more and more real, Alexander begins to experience powerful visions as the rest of the cast deal with coming to terms with their own mortality - just as the director himself was likely doing with this final work. And then Tarkovsky takes things in an interesting direction when Alexander, an atheist prior, pleas towards God for a solution to which he offers a sacrifice.
Dedicated by the director to his own son, Andrei Jr. who was living in the director's native Russia and unable to leave (by this point in his career Tarkovsky had left Russia, swearing never to return), The Sacrifice is such a perfectly constructed film that it's hard to take issue with much of anything relating to it. The performances are superb, with Erland Josephson really standing out particularly in the last half hour or so of the film, once those around him start preparing in their own ways for the end that they don't seem to be able to escape from. His performance is gut wrenching and completely convincing, so much so that you get the impression he's channeling some of his own self here rather than simply interpreting Tarkovsky's script. Josephson is surrounded by equally talented actors and actresses but his performance is the most memorable of the bunch.
With nothing left to lose at this point in his career (Tarkovsky knew he was terminally ill as he was making this film) he shows concern not for providing an entertaining film, but for making a thought provoking one. The picture is shot with many long takes and static shots that, while wonderfully composed, don't always make for the most riveting or suspenseful set pieces and the film itself is quite lengthy. The film is paced erratically, presumably to give us time to soak things up and think things over before moving on to the next point on Tarkovsky's agenda, but the end result, if more challenging than some will want it to be, is quite amazing. Part Biblical parable by way of cinematic interpretation and part goodbye letter from a man who truly loved and nearly perfected his craft as a filmmaker, The Sacrifice is a very well controlled film that is as rewarding as it is weighty.
The Sacrifice looks very good in this 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation from Kino. There does appear to have been some overzealous cleanup work done which means that some scenes lack the natural film grain that they should have had, but the picture is certainly cleaner and more naturally colorful than it has been on past DVD incarnations. Edge enhancement is occasionally problematic, however, so those who are susceptible to that quirk will likely take issue. Clarity, color and texture all look quite good, however, and while this isn't a flawless image, the good does outweigh the bad.
The Swedish language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is, save for a couple of pops here and there, generally quite excellent. The levels are well balanced, the dialogue perfectly clear and audible, and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about, particularly when it comes to the film's interesting score, which sounds great here. The optional English subtitles are easy to read and free of any obvious typographical errors.
The first disc in this two disc set contains only the movie and some menus and chapter stops. The second disc, however, contains the ninety-seven minute feature length documentary, Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, which is quite a revealing look at the filmmaker and his craft. Produced by the Swedish Film Institute, this piece doesn't just focus on Tarkovsky's work on The Sacrfice (though it does contain quite a bit of good information on that film and some great footage of him working on it) but is actually just as focused on his technique as a filmmaker rounded out with some excellent film clips and revealing interview segments.
Also included on the second disc are a pair of still galleries and trailers for a few other Kino titles available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Sacrifice, Andrey Tarkovsky's final film, is a poetic and moving film featuring dialogue and scripting that comes second only to the movie's affecting imagery. It is a somber, Bergman-esque film of inspired cinematography and reflective themes that makes for a very moving experience, the final statement of a master filmmaker. Kino's two disc release looks and sounds quite good and contains enough extra features to warrant a highly recommended rating.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.