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  • Langsamkeit/Slowness:Meditating on the Frame: Blind Spots and the Construction of Erotic Space in Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalgia
  • Catherine Ann Somerville Venart (bio)

This essay will look at how spatial relationships are constructed in the film Nostalgia (Andrei Tarkovsky, IT/SU, 1983). As the name suggests, Nostalgia instills in the viewer an immense sense of longing or desire. Its heavily laden atmospheric structure transports us through the dreams and memories of Andrei, a Russian poet living in Italy, back to his homeland. Through the analysis of one scene or still, similarities are found between the cinematic image and the architectural construct and our perception of both.

The film still that this essay examines (Figure 1) is a key transition scene for the film, the place where relationships are set up and events past, present, and future are played out. The still presents us with the basic information of a room. It contains a bed and bedside table, on which stands a phone and lamp, but is otherwise bare. Its undefined placeless-ness, when observed over time, allows us to see and know every subtle detail intimately. Its very emptiness creates an opening into which we insert our unconscious imagination and associated memories. "Capturing the reflection of life, the dream of life"1 within its emptiness.

The three main elements that delineate the scene are the back wall, light, and the frame itself (Figure 2). They structure the space, limiting, focusing, and revealing what we can and cannot see. The wall runs parallel to the frame, cutting off the background and compressing our perception of depth. It has two apertures, a window and a door. As the window is initially closed, we see little through either except the light that falls into the darkened room, outlining the third object in the room, a bed (Figure 3). The frame edges physically cut the space, preventing the outer reaches of the foreground to be seen. Limiting again what we can see, [End Page 88] although we know the space continues through what appears to be another window on the left and a wall that extends beyond the frame to the right (Figure 2). The immobility of this frame, with the extremely slow panning or zooming of the camera, and the shallow depth created by the wall and small details that all make us acutely aware of the limits, restricting what we can and cannot see.

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Figure 1.

Frame from Nostalgia, Andrei Tarkovsky. This denial of view or complete understanding is created by a blind field and is what Roland Barthes would suggest produces the erotic.

The frame edge, along with the wall and the window shutters interior to the frame, all act to mask out areas from view, giving us only partials. From this, we can easily deduce that there is more we cannot see or know; this invites us to imagine the rest. For example, the bathroom must have a window that looks to the courtyard, as the doorway is lit from the left and the circular mirror over the sink holds the moon. In activating our imagination, tension is created in/for the viewer. We must await the slow pan or zoom of the camera, or Andrei himself, to activate the room's depths for us, turning on lights, opening windows, and moving from object to object around the room. A wardrobe, a fireplace with a mirror, and a few personal mementos such as glass bottles, a comb wound with hair, and a bible come to light on the right. How they arrive in the room is unclear, but they are focused upon individually, as small still lifes, each giving us clues as to aspects of Andrei's character and his connections to others in the film, both in Italy and in his home country.

In this way, the room and the character of Andrei are slowly built in our minds and throughout the film. Similarly, we, in engaging with our surroundings, in walking, touching, and picking things up, come to understand and know each part. This activation of the line that divides knowing from looking and seeing is how Tarkovsky holds us...


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pp. 88-94
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