The film was about a Russian poet visiting Italy with an attractive interpretor as a guide. While there, the Russian meets a so-called crazy man that displays extreme faith and love. Their lives end up paralleling each other and we witness the slow evolution into similarity. Through it all, the Russian is reminded of his homeland and family everywhere he goes.
That summary doesn't do the film justice since most of the "plot points" have to be gleaned from the little information Tarksovsky gives the audience. While I admire the effort and thought put into this film, ultimately it was a tedious experience that kept me checking my watch.
Some things I appreciated about the film:
- Its editing: for the most part, scenes are done in single shots. Multiple people may be in a conversation, but they may not all be in the shot. I enjoy slow editing (to an extent), so I admired the use of the camera in capturing whole scenes without cuts.
- Actor blocking: this goes along with editing. The actors where often walking in and out of shot and many times appeared to be looking directly into the camera. I thought this was a unique approach that helped contribute to the lazy pace of the film.
- Symbolism: there were parallels in the props used throughout the film that either link back to the Russian homeland or the crazy man. This was the only way I was able to notice the parallelism throughout the film.
- The tempo: it was so slowly paced that I was craving an edit, any edit anywhere, by the end. The tempo is like slow footsteps and doesn't relent or hasten the whole film. Even the people moved slowly. I can't recall anyone moving at more than a saunter the entire film. I wished something would move quickly so the movie would keep my interest.
- Lack of contrast: While there was contrast between flashbacks of Russia and "reality" (black and white vs. color), there was a complete lack of contrast between scenes, faces, pace, sound. I didn't feel any emotional impact at the apparently epiphanous ending because it seemed just as lachrymose as the rest of the film.
- Lack of emotion: This goes hand in hand with the lack of contrast. No one showed emotion. Mostly people explained what they apparently were feeling. Even the interpretor --in her rant against the Russian--lacked any real spark. Was I supposed to feel anything for the characters, because I had no idea what they were feeling.
- Sound mixing: With the exception of the beginning, end, and two other spots in the film that included music, the sound was either dead silence or abrasive noise. I don't know if some of the bad sound quality had to do with they bad sound system at International Cinema or if it was because it was 1983, but the sound drove me nuts. Most of the sound was footsteps or rain, with the same rhythm over and over and over. Maybe that was Tarkovsky's point, but it slowly drove me up the wall as the sound remained empty.