Peter Larkin reviews 'The Sacrifice' (1986), a Swedish film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. "/> Peter Larkin reviews 'The Sacrifice' (1986), a Swedish film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. " />


The Local’s Swedish film of the month: The Sacrifice

Film writer Peter Larkin reviews 'The Sacrifice' (1986), a Swedish film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

The Local's Swedish film of the month: The Sacrifice
The Sacrifice, starring Erland Josephson. Photo: Arne Carlsson/Svenska Filminstitutet

Ingmar Bergman considered Andrei Tarkovsky to be cinema's greatest director. Tarkovsky made seven feature films: five in his native Russia, one in Italy and one in Sweden, his final film, The Sacrifice (Tarkovsky, 1986). Tarkovsky died of lung cancer at the age of only 54, one year after finishing The Sacrifice.

The film concerns Alexander (Erland Josephson, a frequent Bergman collaborator) as a former actor turned critic and lecturer of aesthetics. At the beginning of the film Alexander speaks philosophically about life with his young son who is temporarily mute due to a throat operation and can only listen. The young son's first name is never given, the family refer to him as 'little man', he is absent for much of the film but often spoken of.

As French film critic and theorist Michel Chion notes, Sweden and its place names are never mentioned and its characters' names are not particularly Swedish, though the landscape is recognisable and hearing the Swedish language we assume it is Sweden. While looking at an old map of Europe, Alexander says: “It must've been lovely when men thought that the world looked like this.”

Panic occurs when an all-out war is announced on the radio which will possibly bring a nuclear holocaust. The fear, anguish and long emotional monologues remind the spectator of Bergman whose frequent cinematographer Sven Nykvist shot this film. Whereas Bergman's compositions within the frame are often static, almost theatrical in their staging, Tarkovsky chooses to move the camera around a space such as the large living rooms of the characters' homes and the wide open outdoors.

READ ALSO: 30 Swedish movies you must see before you die

Tarkovsky and Nykvist reduced the colour for dramatic effect during certain scenes; the effects of the lighting are different judging from screenshots from the various DVD and BluRay releases of the film. Anna Asp who worked three times with Bergman designed the interiors in the film which arguably hold happier memories within the characters' lives before the film begins. The sets are given a melancholic feel through the use of sharp lighting.

Tarkovsky uses two long takes: one at the beginning and the other near the end of the film. They are filmed from a distance so that we can observe rather than identify with the characters. The sacrifice of the title is Alexander's pleading with God to spare his family from the horrors of a nuclear holocaust by offering something in return.

In between the sounds of airplanes and rockets through the sky it is silence that governs the characters as they imagine the fate of those flying objects. It is often mentioned that Tarkovsky's cinema blends reality with dreams; certain moments in the film show Alexander's dreams and nightmares of the after-effects of a nuclear holocaust shot in sharp black and white. Alexander's visions contrasted with the nine-minute distanced long shot at the beginning are a perfect case in point for reality versus dreams.

Tarkovsky's revelation of the radio announcement and the characters' reactions to it are dealt with very slowly, time passes by as they come together in Alexander's living room for his birthday. As a spectator I felt like Alexander's young son in my lack of understanding of the situation, but minute by minute, pieces came together.

Ambiguity runs through the film from the philosophical discussions to its gripping finale. Tarkovsky uses tracking shots to show Alexander spying on his friends from a distance which at times is almost comical. Erland Josephson's performance is a stunning portrait of a man driven arguably to madness by the thought of World War III.

Peter Larkin is an Irish film writer currently based in Sweden. Read his blog here.


French films with English subtitles to watch in November

As days get shorter and temperatures drop, November is a great month to enjoy a warm and comforting moment at the cinema. Here’s a round up of the French movies with English subtitles to see in Paris this month.

Cinema in France
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

The cinema group Lost in Frenchlation runs regular screenings of French films in the capital, with English subtitles to help non-native speakers follow the action. The club kicks off every screening with drinks at the cinema’s bar one hour before the movie, so it’s also a fun way to meet people if you’re new to Paris.

These are the events they have coming up in November.

Friday, November 5th

Boîte Noire – What happened on board the Dubai-Paris flight before it crashed in the Alps? In this thriller Matthieu, a young and talented black box analyst played by Pierre Niney (star of Yves Saint-Laurent among other movies) is determined to solve the reason behind this deadly crash, no matter the costs. 

The screening will take place at the Club de l’étoile cinema at 8pm. But you can arrive early for drinks at the bar from 7pm. 

Tickets are €10 full price, €8 for students and all other concessions, and can be reserved here.

Sunday, November 14th

Tralala – In the mood for music? This new delightful French musical brings you into the life of Tralala (played by Mathieu Amalric), a 48 years old, homeless and worn-out street singer, who one day gets mistaken for someone else. Tralala sees an opportunity to get a better life by taking on a new personality. He now has a brother, nephews, ex-girlfriends, and maybe even a daughter. But where is the lie? Where is the truth? And who is he, deep down?

The night will start with drinks from 6pm followed by the screening at 7pm at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema. There is also a two-hour cinema-themed walk where you’ll be taken on a “musicals movie tour” in the heart of Paris, which begins at 4pm.

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here. Tickets for the walking tour cost €20 and must be reserved online here.

Thursday, November 18th

Illusions Perdues – Based on the great novel series by Honoré de Balzac between 1837 and 1843, this historical drama captures the writer Lucien’s life and dilemmas who dreams about a great career of writing and moves to the city to get a job at a newspaper. As a young poet entering the field of journalism, he is constantly challenged by his desire to write dramatic and eye-catching stories for the press. But are they all true?

The evening will kick off with drinks at L’Entrepôt cinema bar at 7pm, followed by the movie screening at 8pm. Tickets are available online here, and cost €8.50 full price; €7 for students and all other concessions.

Sunday, November 21st

Eiffel – Having just finished working on the Statue of Liberty, Gustave Eiffel (played by Romain Duris) is tasked with creating a spectacular monument for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. It’s ultimately his love story with Adrienne Bourgès (Emma Mackey) that will inspire him to come up with the idea for the Eiffel Tower.

After a first screening last month, Lost in Frenchlation is organising a new one at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema, with pre-screening drinks at the cinema bar. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here

Thursday, November 25th

Les Héroïques – Michel is a former junkie and overgrown child who only dreams of motorbikes and of hanging out with his 17-year-old son Léo and his friends. But at 50 years old, he now has to handle the baby he just had with his ex, and try not to make the same mistakes he has done in the past. 

The film will be followed by a Q&A with the director Maxime Roy who will discuss his very first feature. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here.

Full details of Lost in Frenchlation’s events can be found on their website or Facebook page. In France, a health pass is required in order to go to the cinema.