Sunday Afternoon and Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Nostalgia”

By Lynn Cruz

HAVANA TIMES – Thirty-seven years later, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia (1983) is also the  story of an island stranded in the Caribbean sea. Poet Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovsky), the madman Domenico (Erland Josephson) who is compared to Fidel Castro, and his wife Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) are the protagonists of this movie.

Gorchakov travels through Italy to discover the details of a Russian composer’s life in the 18th century, who killed himself after returning to Russia. He is accompanied by a translator, Eugenia.

Recently, during days of protests in Havana against police brutality and the dollarization of essential items, this movie has been like an oasis in the middle of a desert. Two friends, visual artist Samuel Riera and his colleague, biochemist Derbis Campos, spent a Sunday afternoon with us after three months of seeing very few friends because of the lockdown and the risk of catching COVID-19.

The mist in the fields appears on-screen, in black and white. A dark-haired and dark-eyed woman enters the shot. A blond child wearing a man’s jacket also appears. The jacket is too big for him. The child looks like a crow because of his unusual black clothing choice. In the background, there is a white horse that doesn’t move. A dog enters the frame, followed by a young woman who blends into the landscape. Finally, an old woman joins them. The house is in the background. This is how Nostalgia opens, a movie that draws the viewer in from the very beginning, in a shroud of memories and melancholy.

Gorchakov walks down Tuscany’s streets, where he runs into Domenico, known as the “town’s madman”. Gorchakov takes an interest in him, he asks Eugenia to translate for him because he wants to invite him out for lunch. Domenico becomes a kind of obsession not only for the poet, but also for me. He pedals a static bicycle and says: “I am who I am.”

Gorchakov visits him. Domenico’s house is full of leaks and it reminded me of my grandmother’s house. I was somewhat fascinated by my grandmother. She was like the fairy in every fairytale. She had rosy cheeks right up until she was 86 years old, the age her journey on this Earth came to an end.

Domenico says that a drop followed by another aren’t two drops, but a larger drop. You can see 1+1=1 written on the wall. Domenico gives Gorchakov a candle as a gift and gives him a challenge: cross the thermal baths where old people in the town go, with the candle lit.

Combining fire and water, but there is a third element that intervenes on the way: air. Gorchakov takes on this great feat. He ends up telling Domenico he was right. People in the town look at Gorchakov in the same way they look at Domenico, with a kind of fascination mixed with uneasy and distress.

In the meantime, Domenico climbs the sculpture in the middle of Piazza Roma, giving a speech. Eugenia laughs in a mocking tone, while she tells Gorchakov over the phone about what Domenico is doing. Domenico shouts out that the world is very mistaken thinking that a madman has to ask others to be embarassed by his selfishness. Domenico will go up in flames. He ends his speech and falls from the “podium” to the ground. The audience is made up of poor people and the mentally-ill.

Domenico has hit the nail on the head. He argues that the world has succumbed to the “normal” people and that space needs to be given so that sick people can live with the healthy.

The movie ends just as it began, with the house. The home that goes with you everywhere you go, and the place you want to go back to. He has a Heideggerian view of the world, “man’s life is a never-ending return home.”  This is an idea that is best expressed with Cuban emigres’ experience. Gorchakov reflects: “Borders should vanish”, Eugenia (Italian) replies with a question: “What borders?”.

Nostalgia is a movie where the camera scans every corner, texture, face, emotion. Tarkovsky picks up on his obsessions again: the father poet, the land you yearn for, elements of Nature, this time with fire and water taking center stage. Fire is linked to a person’s individual revolution, the one Domenico embarked on and who Gorchakov follows.

Resistance because the fire doesn’t die out, something that Gorchakov sees with the candle Domenico gave him, also representing utopia, enduring in the fight for an ideal, even if it only manifests in poetry. The impossibility of transferring this to our physical reality with Domenico’s death in flames, also talks about the failure of social experiments such as the October Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution now for me.

It is a movie loaded with powerful symbolism too. Gorchakov returns to Russia in his dreams, or from the nightmare of his own death? There are many details in the story that are never explained. However, his mind will take him to what is really important… the search for his essence, truth, even if he has to die trying.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Afternoon and Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Nostalgia”

  • About Nostalgia by Andrei Tarkovsky and my take on it.- It is a psycho drama for characters looking for a deeper meaning to life where there may not be.

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