In Italy to research the life of an exiled Russian composer, dreams of his distant wife Maria, exasperates his smitten translator Eugenia and befriends Domenico, an eccentric activist who sets him a redemptive task.
Andrei Tarkovsky began contemplating this sombre drama while shooting the TV documentary, Tempo di Viaggio, in 1976. Initially, the focus was to fall on the man who had incarcerated his family for 40 years for fear of the apocalypse. However, the musicologist storyline began to develop in collaboration with veteran Italian scenarist Tonino Guerra, who had perfected the art of depicting strong woman and urban alienation with Michelangelo Antonioni. What emerged was one of Tarkovsky's simplest narratives, which was characterised by a haunting stillness that was reinforced by the settings, all of which were found locations, including St Catherine's Pool, where the candle sequence that Krzysztof Kieslowski declared a cinematic miracle was shot in one nine-minute take.
Problems with the budget and the Kremlin delayed shooting until March 1982, while illness and travel restrictions respectively prevented Anatoly Solonitsyn and Alexander Kaidonovsky from taking the role that went to Oleg Yankovsky, who embodied the film's themes with an affectingly melancholic inertia that was born out of homesickness and a longing to start afresh. By coming to accept Eugenia's determination to live for today and Domenico's fearful faith, Gorchakov unified the dualities that dominated the action - Russia/Italy, past/present, sanity/madness, belief/doubt and poetry/music - along with the dreams and flashbacks, which were filmed in monochrome and sepia to detach them from the scholar's colour reality. On viewing the final print, Tarkovsky was surprised to discover Nostalgia's unmediated gloom. However, Gorchakov's situation very much reflected his own, for not long after completing the project he learned that he would no longer be allowed to work in the Soviet Union and, consequently, he announced his defection to the West. Yet, Tarkovsky also shared Domenico's views about humanity's slow destruction of the planet and this increasing divergence from nature would inform his final feature, The Sacrifice. Nostalgia was attacked by many critics for attempting to disguise its lack of depth with a surfeit of beauty. However, it has since been seen as an agonising study of loneliness and confusion by an artist in the process of being disowned by his homeland.
A hauntingly beautiful film.