4 Stars

Instead of resting at home, or laying up in a hospital bed, iconic director Andrei Tarkovsky was on set directing a film during the last stages of his life when he crafted his final masterpiece “The Sacrifice”, and it is a film about facing death, at least the Earth facing its own mortality. Every moment in the film is inscribed with the understanding and reflection of a man who’s habitat is facing demise as WW3 unfolds in front of him. It is a masterwork about a man coming to terms with his own existence, the meaning of his existence, and what future generations will have to live with once the older generations get antiquated.


“The Sacrifice” was shot in Sweden, on the island of Faro, which was the same locales Ingmar Bergman went to shoot most of his films. The films cinematography was by Bergman frequent cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and the films lead was frequent Bergman actor Erland Josephson. “The Sacrifice” in many ways feels like a work by Ingmar Bergman, as it touches on many familiar existential themes about the anxieties and panics we must confront about mortality, psychological torment, and other crises and fears our world must face. By watching “The Sacrifice” you can’t deny how uncannily close the similarities are in this film with Bergman, who was a master. Tarkovsky was also a master, who seemed to be using Bergman’s tools to craft his own work of art about human frailty and mortality.

Josephson plays Alexander, a retired writer and philosopher who is about to celebrate his birthday with his close friends, children, servants, and other locales. During the gathering, military jets fly above as a nuclear war breaks out across the world. The war makes the skyline and exteriors look murky, and the effect feels claustrophobic as Alexander and friends are caught off from the rest of the world. A brilliant and fascinating scene has the characters in a trance from state sponsored propaganda that echoes how people watch cable news today. Feeling completely suffocated and hopeless, Alexander prays to God to spare the world, in return he will destroy his possessions and even family to salvage the world from demise and destruction.


While “The Sacrifice” was steeped in social commentary, Tarkovsky held deep contempt for his native country of Russia, then at the time it was the former Soviet Union which was in a huge warfare state that consisted of constant military interventions, massive military spending, and an endless Cold War that put the world on the brink of destruction. Tarkovsky was eventually banished from the Soviet Union, which led to him becoming an exile who resided in France. Despite the film having original intentions of Tarkovsky crafting a film that was a reflection of the current geo-political environment he currently inhabited, “The Sacrifice” still feels relevant and timeless today.


Guðrún Gísladóttir and Erland Josephson in Offret (1986)


Alexander, who has mostly lived a selfish and detached world begins to realize what the planet and humanity as to offer. He realizes that future generations will no longer experience the beauty he witnessed in life. Once Alexander makes the deal with God, he wakes up from the nightmare. Everything seems to return to its pre-war state, free of nuclear annihilation and war that has doomed the planet. Yet, Alexander continues to carry out his promise to God to extricate future warfare catastrophes. The film is a deeply philosophical parable that uses so much great artistry and beauty to capture Tarkovsky’s impressionistic take on humanity. Every long take, tracking shot, and exquisite composition is astonishingly staged and rendered with rich elegance.

“The Sacrifice” is truly an absorbing and deeply involving film that requires your own imagination and views on the world. The closest film that comes to mind to this unforgettable experience is Lars von Trier’s 2011 masterpiece “Melancholia”, that was also about a cosmic cataclysm that is way out of its characters hands. While “The Sacrifice” felt like Tarkovsky’s farewell because it was, it is still a remarkable final film that is perhaps Tarkovsky’s greatest achievement of his fascinating filmography. A bold statement I know, since “Mirror” (1975), and “Stalker” (1978) are every bit as masterfully made and essential. The beauty and brilliance of “The Sacrifice” is how Tarkovsky not only invites you into his own psyche and panics, he invites the viewer to participate their own anxieties and experiences of what everything means. This is easily one of the finest films from the 1980’s that demands even greater spotlight.


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Since we love movies, now, in this new weekly blog, we will share our passion and knowledge of older movies that deserve even a wider audience. Defacto Film Reviews Spotlight of the Week will invite the reader to join us on a essential movie pick of the week journey, all in hopes that you put these selected titles in the very top of your watch queue.