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Review: Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1986 masterpiece ‘The Sacrifice’ returns

(L-R) - Erland Josephson and Allen Edwall in Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice.” Credit: Kino Lorber
Erland Josephson, left, and Allan Edwall in the 1986 film “The Sacrifice.”
(Kino Lorber)

A new 4k restoration of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1986 film “The Sacrifice” starts Feb. 2 at the Nuart. This is an excerpt from a review published Dec. 22, 1986. The restored version of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film “Stalker” also screens Feb. 3-8 under separate admission.

Near the beginning of “The Sacrifice,” Andrei Tarkovsky’s great 1986 meditation on the imperiled future of humanity, a middle-aged man is planting a tree by the sea, telling his small, mute son that if he waters it every day at the same time, surely the world will change.

The film ends with a shot of the boy watering the fragile sapling. These two sequences bracket Tarkovsky’s finest work, a culmination of all that preoccupied him throughout his films.

The setting of “The Sacrifice,” which was made in Sweden, is a handsome house and swampy grounds — all the better for Tarkovsky’s famous water images — in a remote region by the sea.

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It is the birthday of its owner Alexander (Erland Josephson), who is in a reflective mood, wondering whether he’s accomplished anything in life. In a long dialogue with a mystical friend (Allan Edwall), he reveals concern for the imbalance of the spiritual and the material in our lives.

Tarkovsky proceeds to spin an enigma, leaving us to wonder whether what follows is Alexander’s dream, a false alarm that World War III has started or an actual crisis, inexplicably resolved.

By the time “The Sacrifice” comes full circle it emerges itself as a symbolic gesture of great emotional impact. We may share Alexander’s sense of impotence, but Tarkovsky turns such feelings into a work of art. In the face of despair, the “hope and confidence” with which Tarkovsky dedicates his film to his own son, he makes “The Sacrifice” a gift to us all.

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‘The Sacrifice’ (1986)

In Swedish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Playing: Landmark Nuart, West L.A., Feb. 2-8

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