Puffin’s review published on Letterboxd:
Tarkovsky is a bit different from other slow cinema artists that dominate other parts of the world. Like filmmakers such as Bela Tarr and Lav Diaz, Tarkovsky holds shots for long periods of time, perhaps with more camera movement than the others, yet when Tarr and Diaz move their shots, they match the mood out of necessity. Their films are slow, so their camera movements are slow as well, makes sense, and they do it spectacularly. Tarkovsky moves his camera slowly because there's so much detail in his colors, his lighting, every single detail is so pronounced, it takes time for us to absorb such minor objects into our world of the frame. He refuses to rush past the place he's setting up, so he paints the world for us slowly, one edge of the frame at a time.
These visuals do wondrous things in terms of mood, like nostalgia, like desolation, like panic, and these unique visuals set these experiences apart from the experiences of less vibrant films. The color palette doesn't seem forced, but it creeps in, always anticipation of a new color, an orange glow on the horizon to match a mostly brown shot within a cabin, the cabin sitting in the corner during a shot of mostly grass and plants of green, a lone tree on a snow-capped hill, and in the black and white shots, there's always the slightest bit of brightness in the darker moments, and the slightest bit of darkness in the brighter moments. There's always something to work towards, and to transition into naturally.
What separates real life memories from film memories are the details. You can place a scene inside a cabin, but if you've ever been in a real life cabin, there's things that are hard to replicate, like the protection, the quirks of the wilderness interrupting you from the outside, the occasional rain drop making its way in through a window, just to remind yourself how much it’s raining, but how dry you remain, little things like that film cannot replicate unless you force those thoughts on it. Yet having these details be a major focus, never skipping over pans that spend most of their length on the objects leading up to the main focus, rather than the focus itself, it gives way for a more atmospheric tone, a child-like sense of wonder, and a better representation of the real world. Tarkovsky's tales of Russia, through the eyes of our main character, are much more personal with these details. These details are even exploited slightly, in regards to the cabin.
Mirror also uses stock footage extensively for moments of historical significance. Tarkovsky’s choice of footage is spectacular in its own right, matching the mood of wonder and intimacy that the rest of the film’s visuals portray, but he also treats this footage with the same amount of passion and care as he does with his own scenes, making these scenes less like afterthoughts, and more like essential to the film’s scope. I didn’t expect to see Tarkovsky use stock footage, as it’s often used in film as a crutch, rather than an enhancement, but I was even further surprised in how well he incorporated it.
To compare this film to most of its contemporaries is difficult. It’s not like a conventional Tarkovsky film, as it’s more diverse stylistically than the likes of Solaris or Stalker, it’s not a conventional Soviet film, and it’s not even a conventional “Slow Cinema” piece. But there is one notable comparison, another Soviet war film from a decade after, Elem Klimov’s Come and See. That film worked in disturbance and anger, and it did its job terrifically, it was one of the most horrifying war films ever made, yet it worked in very basic themes, loss of innocence, harshness of war, and it did so through exaggerated scenes to convey pain. It worked amazingly, I love that film, and it may be the riskier of the two, but Mirror remains the bolder choice. It deals in a broad scope of memories, lush, childish memories, down to earth, and dealing with many different emotions. Come and See seeks to tell a message, it wants you to know something. Mirror is better than that. Stories feel more honest when there’s no endgame, and Mirror’s memories of childhood serve stronger tales than Come and See’s morals amidst a hellish nightmare.
The last scene puts the entire rest of the film into perspective, adding a greater importance to it all. It’s something truly grand, not necessarily an epic, as much of the film remains rather close to a small group of characters, creating intimacy rather than this all-seeing eye of Russia. Yet you get a feel for time, you feel different emotions resonate through different eras, it gently rolls its way into your conscious, but its importance, its impact is subtle, and isn’t going anytime soon.