Monday, August 11, 2014

Burning Down the House

Offret/The Sacrifice (1986) - Tarkovsky
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It's Alexander (Ingmar Bergman regular Erland Josephson)'s birthday. He and his young son plants a leaveless, twisty tree. He tells the son that even the ordinary actions, done them time and time again, brings a change in the world. Not a religious man, Alexander argues with a local postman and Nietzsche quoting Otto (Allan Edwall of Fanny och Alexander). As the day wears on, dinner is getting set up for his birthday at his house by the ocean attended by his wife, teenage daughter, son, his doctor friend and the wife's lover, Otto and two servant girls. But just before dinner, they are startled by sonic jet flying over and distant booms. It's the end of days. Nowhere in Europe is safe, stay at home, the radio announcer says in a grim voice.

Alxander, gripped with fear for all humanity, prays to god that he will give up anything to save the mankind. Otto sneaks in and tells Alexander that he has to lie with Maria, a sullen, saintly foreign servant, in order to save the world. He does so on her levitating bed.

The Russian master's last film is a beautiful religious parable. Dreamlike, meditative, all encompassing work. The uninterrupted climax scene of Alexander burning down the house is perhaps the master's finest technical feat and a true cinematic tour-de-force. And it's a hopeful one. It ends with the young son watering the tree as Maria looks on.

Shot by the great Sven Nykvist (yet another Bergman cohort), The Sacrifice is a fitting finale for illustrious filmmaker who wanted to elevate film's status to other art form, that of painting and music.

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