Andrei Tarkovsky’s Madonna del Parto
James Macgillivray is from Toronto. He is currently (2003) finishing his Masters in Architecture at Harvard Design School. This paper first appeared in the Canadian Journal of Film Studies/Revue canadienne d’études cinématographiques, Volume 11, Number 2 (Fall 2002), and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author and of CJFS. The author wishes to thank Alessandra Ponte, Georges Teyssot and P. Adams Sitney.
Also see Gazing into Time: Tarkovsky and Post-Modern Cinema Aesthetics by Robert Bird.
In July of 1984, Andrei Tarkovsky attended a press conference in Milan where he announced to the world that he would not return to the Soviet Union. When a journalist asked him if he would be seeking political exile in Italy, Tarkovsky answered, “I’m telling you a drama. You cannot ask me bureaucratic questions. Which country? I don’t know. It’s like asking me in which cemetery I wish to bury my children” . This laconic announcement came at the end of the drama that began in 1979 when he first chose to go to Italy to film Nostalghia. The film itself stands as a testament to his own experience of nostalgia during his exile; in fact Tarkovsky calls the protagonist, Andrei Gorchakov, a “mirror” of himself . Gorchakov’s exile, like Tarkovsky’s, is expressed and manifested in a project: the purpose of his trip to Italy is to research the life of Pavel Sosnovsky, an 18th century serf composer whose nostalgia for Russia in Italy drives him to suicide. Sosnovsky’s story within the film is a mirror in which Gorchakov can better perceive his own nostalgia. Tarkovsky, in turn, can be said to “work through” his own nostalgia by interrogating and manipulating the character of Gorchakov. Sosnovsky is therefore the diegetic denotation of a generative structure for the work, Nostalghia (Italy, 1982, Andrei Tarkovsky). As such, Sosnovsky is an example of a narrative device known as mise en abyme, a condition in a work of art where a fragment of the work replicates, in miniature, the entire composition of the work. The mise en abyme of Nostalghia is unique because the symmetry across scales (a story within a story) ultimately points back to Tarkovsky. The making of Nostalghia, the nostalgia of Tarkovsky himself, is contained within Nostalghia. In Sculpting and Time, he says that “the cam