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The Sacrifice

Art House & International movie directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and Michal Leszczylowski

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Is there hope for mankind? Visually stunning and profound meditation on faith, doubt, love, deceit, war, madness and redemption

  • Jan 13, 2010
On the morning of his birthday, Alexander takes his young son ("little man") for a walk and plants a tree. It is no ordinary tree, but a tall dried out sprawling limb, supported by stones. Alexander tells his son that a single act, repeated daily, can change the world, and tells him the story of a monk who brought a tree to life by his daily watering and devotion. Events that unfold later that evening, raising the specter of a nuclear holocaust, suggest the possibility there won't be time to carry out any such plans. Alexander finds himself faced with a choice. Is he willing to make a leap of faith, a Faustian bargain - with God, perhaps? - to save his family?

Andrei Tarkovksy's final film, completed from his death bed as he died from lung cancer, is perhaps his most philosophically complex, and shows him at the height of his powers as a filmmaker. With cinematographer Sven Nykvist, the Ingmar Bergman favorite, Tarkovsky created some remarkably subtle and beautiful and provocative imagery, that cannot help but unsettle the viewer, and raise questions about the relative merits of intellect and conviction, of individuality and community, of realism and superstition. Like his previous two films, Stalker and Nostalghia, the film focuses on a troubled individual at the crossroads, doubting the moral validity of his life, and then faced with a choice to either act upon faith, where the task appears outwardly absurd but may make all the difference, or to refuse and rest secure in doubt and uncertainty.

The film looks good in this dvd release, though as others have noted the colors seem a bit muted and shadow details are lost, especially inside. I have seen this twice projected from a 35mm print and even where the print I saw was somewhat damaged I remember it to have been more vibrant in the color scenes and more detailed in black and white. I understand there are better dvd transfers of this film available elsewhere (notably the Swedish version), but this is much better than the older VHS version and as good as it is likely to get in the United States unless Criterion is able to take it on (there are rumors), and even in this version it's hard to miss the power of the visuals and the richness of the ideas raised by the film. One nice bonus included with the Kino version (this one) is the very fine documentary "Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky" that reveals a good deal about his filmmaking process as it covers his work making "The Sacrifice" - and includes several of his personal thoughts on cinema as Brian Cox reads passages from Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time. Highly recommended.

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review by . March 29, 2009
It may not sound like the best way to spend over two hours of your time, but "The Sacrifice," (famed Russian director Tarkovsky's last film) shoots his film to perfection. Drawing from the pensiveness of Bergman, Tarkovsky also vividly shows some shattering emotional scenes when a birthday celebration turns from mirth to terror as a household faces the spectre of what one can assume is possible nuclear annihilation from World War III. The acting is often superb and the intensity of some of the scenes …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #68
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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About this movie


Alexander, a journalist and former actor and philosopher, tells his little son how worried he is about the lack of spirituality of modern mankind. In the night of his birthday, the third world war breaks out. In his despair Alexander turns himself in a prayer to God, offering him everything to have the war not happened at all. Run Time: 246 minutes Format: 1 disc, DVD Studio: Kino Video ISBN: 738329014926
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Genre: Foreign
DVD Release Date: March 7, 2000
Runtime: 246 minutes
Studio: Kino Video
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