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3.6 out of 5 stars
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3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 12 October 2000
Yet again, Tarkovsky gives us what he is best at: a deeply moving/worrying/almost spiritual plot, excellent scenery, and his famed long shots (some last up to 10 minutes, the most film that could be fitted to his cameras).
A short plot summary (purists, look away now): War breaks out in Russia, and the family which we are following reacts badly to the planes overhead and the general threatening feeling of atomic bombs. The head of the household prays that night that if only everything were to be put back to how it was the previous morning, he would give up everything. Everything... His house, his family, his small deaf/dumb child; everything.
He wakes up the next morning to find there has never been a war.
To seriously give away the plot ending, an interesting note is that when filming the last dramatic scene for the first time, not only did lots of things go wrong, but finally the camera jammed. This was a problem, since they actually burnt down the house! (No models...) So they rebuilt the house and did the shot again. That particular shot, the climax to the film, lasts around 7 minutes, and is pure genius.
I would recommend this film to anyone that likes any of Tarkovsky's other 6 films, and also to anyone that likes Kubrick's work. The tension mixed with the use of various "proper" music (eg Bach's St Matthew Passion) is breathtaking.
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I totally disagree with the previous review; this is a wonderful movie ruined by excessive DNR, yet another one, shame on Kino. I'm sorry to say that there is far too much DNR manipulation, resulting on false edge enhancement, softness, and lack of detail. Movies shot in celluloid are supposed to be grainy, that is the cinematic soul of these movies, and by trying to eliminate it, the original definition of detail in the film is simply destroyed, hence the softness and blurry aspect. Looking at those waxy faces just makes me sad and wish for a real HD transfer of this wonderful movie as it was orignally shot, without artificial manipulation.
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on 21 February 2006
In decades of movie going and collecting, there are only a few films that keep coming to mind at unexpected moments. For me, this is what great art does; that is, it becomes a part of one's experience and not just a momentary diversion.
THE SACRIFICE is a great film. It touches on the most fundamental questions of being a human in our post-modern world. And it does it with extraordinary grace and a sublime, haunting, beauty.
To miss the point of this film, as some reviewers have, or to call it sophomoric, as others do, is to admit one's own inability to consider that life itself may hold a greater, dare I say, spiritual, meaning and that we are more than an accidental fluke in a cold, uncaring universe.
This film dares to use its considerable art to challenge us like a zen koan and a prayer. It is a meditation on what it means to be fully human and mortal and moral. It asks us to wonder at the unknown and it weeps that we are prisoners of our humanity -- and that we hold the fate of our planet in our hands.
All this sounds kind of pretentious, I know, but this magnificent yet simple film works on a higher level than most movies. It's not easily categorized. But on a big screen, I was hypnotized by the extraordinary cinematography and equally transported by the subtle ideas. It was a transcendent movie going experience that I didn't expect and one that has remained vivid as the years pass.
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on 2 November 2002
This is maybe not Tarkovsky's magnum opus, but it still deserves five stars, because it is such a great film. Dedicating it to his son, Tarkovsky was diagnosed with cancer during the production, and it shows that this is his final opus.
It is filmed by the world's greatest film photographer ever, Sven Nyqvist, most famous for his work in Bergmans films. And the filming, lighting, scenography and uneasy, almost frightening mood created by these are truly excellent (especially the final scene).
Swedish Actor Erland Josephson plays Alexander, a journalist who has moved from the big city. He lives in his dream house with his family. Victor, a friend of the family and a doctor, and Otto the local mailman, and a very Nietzschean character, are there to celebrate Alexanders birthday. One of the maids, Julia, is also present. During the evening, terrible news of the outbreak of the third world war reach them.
The Sacrifice is really about self sacrifice in the interest of the community, and is therefore a film about Christian ideals as are his former film, Nostalghia.
Central in the film, and the original story (the apocalyptic scenario was added later) was a more pagan idea, which he called "the Witch".
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This was Tarkovsky's seventh and final full-length work for the cinema; he died of cancer shortly after its completion. This thought-provoking 142-minute film tells the story of two days spent at the country home of actor-writer Alexander (played by Erland Josephson - Domenico in Tarkovsky's `Nostalgia') on the Swedish island of Gotland (the final home, incidentally, of Ingmar Bergman). The plot can be simply told.

Here Alexander lives with his young son and beautiful teenage daughter Marta (Filippa Franzen), and here he holds a small party to celebrate his birthday. His ex-wife Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood) and her new husband Victor (Sven Vollter) arrive, as does neighbour Otto (Allan Edwall - you may remember him from Bergman's `Fanny & Alexander'), who happens to be a retired teacher, is now the district postman, and all his life has collected facts about unexplained phenomena. (The quote at the head of this review is Otto's as he gives Alexander an antique map of Europe as his birthday present.) Also present is the maid Julia (Valerie Mairesse) and the enigmatic servant Maria (Gudrun Gisladottir), from Iceland. Her naming is significant, and Otto calls her a witch, "in the best sense".

Over these two days an apocalypse occurs (nuclear war is hinted) and Alexander suffers a spiritual crisis, making a vow to a God he long ceased to recognise, sacrificing for his son's sake the pleasures of his life if only things could go back to how they were before: "I will give thee all I have. I'll give up my family whom I love; I'll destroy my home; and give up Little Man [his son]. I'll be mute and never speak another word to anyone. I'll relinquish everything that binds me to life, if only thou dost restore everything as it was before, as it was this morning and yesterday."

I will not reveal the method of how he defies events - the psychically-sensitive Otto is the trigger and means - but when indeed time is reversed to life before the apocalypse, Alexander feels compelled to fulfil his vow in a very dramatic way. And that's the plot!!

But, of course, however sparse the plot of a Tarkovsky film may appear, the underlying aesthetic and philosophical issues provide a feast for the senses and the mind. Signature Tarkovsky stylistic tropes appear from the very beginning. Indeed, a long ten-minute tracking-shot opens the film. There are mirror shots; there are shots where vertical features such as tree trunks split the scene; there are switches from the colour of the delightful rural backwater that is Alexander's home to black-and-white images of a city in chaos, with abandoned half-destroyed vehicles littering the street and water (always water!) seeping through the detritus. Moreover, throughout the whole period from the onset of the apocalypse to its subsequent erasure, the film is presented with its colour reduced, as if the camera had a grey filter.

There is the usual exquisite framing of scenes. (Bergman's cameraman Sven Nykvist was the Director of Photography.) We see the bleak coastline and a solitary tree; coins and clothes scattered in winter mud and snow; curtains billowing in the soft wind. We hear the sound of the sea and of seagulls, of dripping water, of floors creaking, of clocks ticking, and of missiles passing overhead. Significantly, we hear the sound of a wailing shepherdess in the distance that always bodes the passing of an event. (Otto claims she is "an angel passing by, who saw fit to touch me.") We experience the delight of Leonardo's `Adoration of the Magi' -, a picture all about gifts to the divine - although Otto calls it sinister and says he has always been terrified by Leonardo.

The boy is at the centre of the film, and yet he is the only one who does not speak. He is, admittedly, recuperating from an operation, but the doctor admits nevertheless that, "Sociability is a burden. Not all of us can bear it." Throughout the film the boy is referred to by his father significantly as `little man': is there an underlying Christian symbolism here? Alexander tells him, "How different things would be if only we could stop fearing death." He tells him, "Sometimes I say to myself, if every single day, at exactly the same stroke of the clock, one were to perform the same single act, like a ritual, unchanging, systematic, every day at the same time, the world would be changed." The precise philosophical relevance here is to the planting of a tree in inauspicious circumstances; but if the tree is watered and fed systematically, it will grow and the world would be changed.

Some scenes defy (for me) explanation (so far). For example, why does Maria talk straight to the camera and list "The plates, the candles, the wine"? Why does Alexander's naked daughter chase cockerels out of her room - or am I being naïve here? There is even an element of slapstick comedy (rare for Tarkovsky) as Alexander tries to surreptitiously make his escape from home on Otto's bicycle.

The collectors' edition of this DVD contains the usual image gallery, production notes and filmographies. In the notes, Tarkovsky says, "The sole means of returning to a normal relationship with life is to restore one's independence vis-à-vis the material things of life and reaffirm one's spiritual essence. In this film I deal with one of the aspects of this struggle for anyone living in society: the Christian concept of self-sacrifice ... though the episodes are filmed as if they were realistic, they are conceived as parables." The filmographies include written critiques from Sven Nykvist, Erland Josephson, and Susan Fleetwood about working with Tarkovsky.

The extras also include a 97-minute film made after Tarkovsky's death, a film which is, in effect, a `making of ...' feature, with occasional readings of some of Tarkovsky's written views. It has scenes which did not make the final cut and an interview with Tarkovsky's last wife, Larissa. But the main drama is kept until the end, when filming of the final scene of the torching of the house failed due to the camera jamming. Charges to set the tree and the car alight also failed. In the meantime, of course, the house burned to the ground. The team had to work hard to rebuild the set, but in a week all was ready for a successful shoot.
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on 23 September 2011
If you are serious in exploring cinema, I advise you NOT to see this film. Things will no longer be the same again for you; great films that you admire and haunt you will all vanish into thin air. I saw "The Sacrifice" several years ago and cannot escape its witchcraft gravity. This is definitely the apex of movie making and will stay there perhaps for hundreds of year till another prophet-Tarkovsky walks the surface of the earth again. This is a collusion to make you a captive. Tarkovsky IS a witch, a male Circe.

Before I go into the analysis of this work, I will say a few words on the side of the implementation of this film. The actors are superb. Erland Josephson, the protagonist, surpasses himself in a difficult role. No praise can do justice to his achievement here. Maria (Gudrun Gisladottir) is excellent. On her face you can see the sorcerer and the divine, the inchoate mother of mankind. Allan Edwall (Otto, the postman) is memorable.

Photography here breaks new grounds in cinematography (Sven Nykvist). What could have been a more appropriate setting than the melancholic, desolate Scandinavian landscape! No tricks of zooming in and out, of rapid succession of images. Just sit and watch the same plateau for many minutes, spellbound. Bach and the Japanese music that recur several times are the soul of the film. More than the plot, more than the visual imagery they convey Tarkovsky's message. Prayer, supplication, surrender, desolation, terror.

There is no third world war, there is no little man, thee is no postman, no doctor, no women, no house is set to fire. There is only one man, Alexander and Maria, the spiritual, God or what you want it to be.

This is a psychoanalytic (not an intellectual) regression into man's origins and his annihilation in them. This movie is the horror movie of all time. Salvation and requiem is to be found after man crosses the border into insanity and beyond, to surrender to the annihilating forces of the divine.

There is symbolism everywhere, difficult to grasp even if one is a psychoanalyst. With the passage of time, after having viewed this film many times and spent much time thinking, you not only decipher pieces of this mysterious work, but also find changes in yourself. Is this, perhaps, why we see movies?

This film is not about an impeding holocaust, a third world war and a man turning to God to save the world, making a personal promise for a sacrifice. Remember this is Tarkovsky, the poet. The plot is a dream, hardly anything is what it appears to be. I am shocked to read even serious critics attempting to analyze this film as if it was a serial, applying common logic to understand to plot. Primary process, gentlemen!

Few things have touched me more profoundly than "The Sacrifice", and Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen".

I will venture to give newcomers to Tarkovsky some clues into the symbolism and nature of characters of this work, in the hope that this may give you a good start in your, hopefully, long journey in Tarkovsky's world. I am, of course, aware that I may be committing a crime in misguiding you, who knows...

The little boy is the unconscious of the main character. The mailman is an agent that allows for communication between the unconscious and awareness and daylight logic that can be verbalized. The women are feminine parts of the male soul of the protagonist. The house set on fire is the destruction of the man made psychological component of ourselves (the ego?).

A breakdown of the borders of his psyche takes place (when Little Man attacks Alexander) and fear floods his conscious mind. Primitive material, ancient horrors break loose and cause infinite anguish. The biological self (the postman who has the map of the world as it previously was) directs the protagonist to salvation, Maria's house, where the divine part of man fuses with the collective divine and finds "requiem" in annihilating itself, while the carnal part runs demented and is arrested by the "sane" authorities of our world.

A deeply disturbing, frightfully pessimistic story.
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on 27 January 2007
*** Possible spoilers ***

This is the last film by the late Andrei Tarkovsky, who also made masterpieces such as Stalker and Solaris. It was shot on the island of Gotland, Sweden with help from the photographist Sven Nykvist, featuring only a handful of skilled actors including Susan Fleetwood, wife of the drummer(?) of Fleetwood Mac, who's voice is dubbed into Swedish except for one peculiar episode when her words are in English, as well as the lead actor Erland Johansson who is recognized from films by Ingmar Bergman and much more.

I will not explain the plot of the movie, you can read that elsewhere. Instead I will just mention that from my point of view this film is particularly interesting for many reasons - Gotland is a beautiful, isolated island which is rarely portrayed on the screen, which is a nice surprise. Second, Gotland has always played an important part in the Scandinavian/Norse mythology - now that really hasn't anything at all to do with the story of the film but my point is that the isolated, strange nature of the island certainly gives you this feeling. Photographer Sven Nykvist captures this feeling. Still there are only a few scenic shots. "Less is more". Sven is a lightning genius (pun intended) when it comes to working with shadows. Finally the usage of the eerie background vocal music called "kulning" is absolutely breathtaking. Kulning is basically a traditonal Scandinavian kind of singing where females sang to the cow or sheep herds in order to make them return from the fields to the farm, but it was also used to frighten away animals of prey such as wolves or bears. My mother does that.

If you like this film I highly recommend you try Stalker or Solaris, which is Tarkovsky's second and third masterpieces, although entirely Russian (not that it matters).
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on 23 February 2015
It looks lovely, but I fear I'm not smart enough to understand what the film was actually about. I'd heard of Tarkovsky as being a master film maker and was curious to see his art. The Sacrifice has some lovely cinematography, with lots of lingering shots in what looks like natural light, in which the characters have long, contemplative conversations. When it was over I felt like I'd experienced something that I'd never experienced before, but at the same time I wasn't sure whether or not I'd actually enjoyed it or understood any of it. I feel like you'd need to be a serious film buff to fully appreciate this.
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on 5 September 2011
If you are serious in exploring cinema, I advise you NOT to see this film. Things will no longer be the same again for you; great films that you admire and haunt you will all vanish into thin air. I saw "The Sacrifice" several years ago and cannot escape its witchcraft gravity. This is definitely the apex of movie making and will stay there perhaps for hundreds of year till another prophet-Tarkovsky walks the surface of the earth again. This is a collusion to make you a captive. Tarkovsky IS a witch, a male Circe.

Before I go into the analysis of this work, I will say a few words on the side of the implementation of this film. The actors are superb. Erland Josephson, the protagonist, surpasses himself in a difficult role. No praise can do justice to his achievement here. Maria (Gudrun Gisladottir) is excellent. On her face you can see the sorcerer and the divine, the inchoate mother of mankind. Allan Edwall (Otto, the postman) is memorable.

Photography here breaks new grounds in cinematography (Sven Nykvist). What could have been a more appropriate setting than the melancholic, desolate Scandinavian landscape! No tricks of zooming in and out, of rapid succession of images. Just sit and watch the same plateau for many minutes, spellbound. Bach and the Japanese music that recur several times are the soul of the film. More than the plot, more than the visual imagery they convey Tarkovsky's message. Prayer, supplication, surrender, desolation, terror.

There is no third world war, there is no little man, thee is no postman, no doctor, no women, no house is set to fire. There is only one man, Alexander and Maria, the spiritual, God or what you want it to be.

This is a psychoanalytic (not an intellectual) regression into man's origins and his annihilation in them. This movie is the horror movie of all time. Salvation and requiem is to be found after man crosses the border into insanity and beyond, to surrender to the annihilating forces of the divine.

There is symbolism everywhere, difficult to grasp even if one is a psychoanalyst. With the passage of time, after having viewed this film many times and spent much time thinking, you not only decipher pieces of this mysterious work, but also find changes in yourself. Is this, perhaps, why we see movies?

This film is not about an impeding holocaust, a third world war and a man turning to God to save the world, making a personal promise for a sacrifice. Remember this is Tarkovsky, the poet. The plot is a dream, hardly anything is what it appears to be. I am shocked to read even serious critics attempting to analyze this film as if it was a serial, applying common logic to understand to plot. Primary process, gentlemen!

Few things have touched me more profoundly than "The Sacrifice", and Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen".

I will venture to give newcomers to Tarkovsky some clues into the symbolism and nature of characters of this work, in the hope that this may give you a good start in your, hopefully, long journey in Tarkovsky's world. I am, of course, aware that I may be committing a crime in misguiding you, who knows...

The little boy is the unconscious of the main character. The mailman is an agent that allows for communication between the unconscious and awareness and daylight logic that can be verbalized. The women are feminine parts of the male soul of the protagonist. The house set on fire is the destruction of the man made psychological component of ourselves (the ego?).

A breakdown of the borders of his psyche takes place (when Little Man attacks Alexander) and fear floods his conscious mind. Primitive material, ancient horrors break loose and cause infinite anguish. The biological self (the postman who has the map of the world as it previously was) directs the protagonist to salvation, Maria's house, where the divine part of man fuses with the collective divine and finds "requiem" in annihilating itself, while the carnal part runs demented and is arrested by the "sane" authorities of our world.

A deeply disturbing, frightfully pessimistic story.

The Sacrifice
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on 5 January 2008
Do not listen to Eucrid's negative review: this is one beautiful and sumptuously shot film which will appeal to anyone with a sense of poetic consciousness...

As for Eucrid, I do not intend to slag you off for trying to put people off a beatifully poetic and thought-provoking film by one of the world's great film directors who also happened to be dying at the time....
However, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed your five star review about the movie 'Borat,' as well as the Philishave HQT764 Rechargeable Beard Trimmer....
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