Texture is the star of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1983 film Nostalghia, particularly the textures of old plaster and mossy stones. One might assume from the title and the plot that this is a film about longing for a vanished past but Tarkovsky creates such a beautiful and intensely vital present of ruins that every character's desire for the past or attempt to create a potential future seems like a tragic and frightening madness.
This was Tarkovsky's first film made in Italy and there seems to be an autobiographical element to the plot. Andrei (Oleg Yankovsky) is a Russian writer visiting Italy to do research on the life of an 18th century Russian composer named Pavel Sosnovsky. Andrei misses Russia and we periodically see his flashbacks in black and white to what is presumably Russia and a woman that is presumably his wife (Patrizia Terreno). The film begins with this beautiful black and white composition:
From this shot we go to the first set in the present and Tarkovsky brilliantly gives us colour footage that at first seems to be black and white, being of a foggy grey hillside.
A car drifts by and Andrei emerges along with his interpretor, Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano). Throughout the film as Andrei roams the ruins, thinking of Russia, his wife, or a madman he meets named Domenico (Erland Josephson), Eugenia exhibits increasing frustration at her inability to seduce him. An incredibly beautiful woman, likely not used to wholesale rejection, her feelings manifest as aggression and hatred.
Characteristically of Tarkovsky, his camera doesn't seem especially concerned with the desires of his characters. Tracking shots drift over characters and then past them at a steady pace, revealing the beauty of crumbling, flooded structures while the disembodied dialogue continues. The human mind being composed of its desires and memories is curiously dwarfed by the insistent reality of mute walls and leaking roofs.
The movie has two really startling moments, one of them being a deeply disturbing climax involving Domenico. These moments punctuate the ruminating pace of the rest of the film, the loudest rebukes to any human attempt to build on the inexorable erosion and growth of nature.
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The map could make no proper spike or spear.
To find a line to digits draw the string.
The armour conf'rence clangs while drawing near.
The choirs merge inventing ways to sing.
The plaster grins at thoughts to take a form.
Beside the siren rock's a stable boat.
A tipping toy reverts for magnets warm.
A painted magma livens common moat.
A feather room contained replacement lights.
Above a water stage the land awaits.
On either side of bird and bug were heights.
A sky behind the blinds at last abates.
Persistence lives in pictured changing stones.
A candle brought a galley made of bones.