(Not rated; The Criterion Collection)
(Not rated; Kino Video)
It's hard to summarize the career of Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in a few sentences, since his life and work embodied many contradictions that affected his movies.
He regarded film as an art akin to poetry and painting, yet worked mostly in a government-controlled industry that prized realism and accessibility. He loved his Russian homeland and heritage, yet created his last two movies ("Nostalghia" and "The Sacrifice") during self-imposed exiles in Italy and Sweden, respectively. Perhaps most important, he was a profoundly religious artist who saw life as a struggle between faith, on one hand, and materialism and rationality, on the other - and who championed the former values over the latter, often confusing and dismaying the Soviet film bureaucracy.
Despite these and other difficulties that limited his output to seven major works before his death in 1986, his reputation has continued to grow. The release of "Nostalghia" on laserdisc and "The Sacrifice" on cassette makes all his movies available on video for American audiences.
"Nostalghia" (1983) ranks with his most personal works, telling the atmospheric tale of a Russian writer who visits Italy to research a book, comes down with a debilitating case of homesickness, and strikes up a friendship with a mystical eccentric who's convinced that personal suffering is the key to salvation. "The Sacrifice" (1986) expands on this subject, portraying an aging family man obsessed with the idea that humanity's sinfulness has grown so outrageous that global catastrophe must surely result unless spiritual priorities are reaffirmed by some heroic act of atonement.
Both films emphasize the power of images and sounds over logical themes and conventional storytelling, but even newcomers to Tarkovsky will be moved by the eloquence of his messages and the elegance of his camera work. Another key asset is the compassionate acting of Erland Josephson, known to Americans from some of Ingmar Bergman's most popular pictures.