Nostalghia (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: May 06, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Nostalghia (4K UHD Review)


Andrei Tarkovsky

Release Date(s)

1983 (April 23, 2024)


Sovinfilm/RAI 2/Mosfilm (Kino Classics/Kino Lorber)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B+

Nostalghia (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


When Andrei Tarkovsky was taken away from us in 1986 at the age of 54, he left behind just seven feature films, but that was enough to secure his place as one of the most unique voices in the entire history of film. While his award-winning debut Ivan’s Childhood (aka Ivanovo detstvo) featured a relatively straightforward narrative, it still laid the foundations for the enigmatic cinematic language that he would explore for the rest of his all too brief career. Tarkovsky was one of a small group of directors who have displayed an unparalleled ability to fuse film form with content by using the environments within their films as a way of defining their characters non-verbally. It’s a distinguished group that also includes diverse filmmakers like Michelangelo Antonioni and Makoto Shinkai. Antonioni was more formal and symbolic, using stark landscapes and modernistic urban settings in order to evoke the ennui felt by his characters. Shinkai, on the other hand, uses man’s relationship with nature and modern urban conveniences to outline the frequently tenuous personal connections between his characters.

Yet while the environmental details in Tarkovsky’s work also helped to define his characters, he wasn’t interested in their symbolic value. Even the rain that was a recurring image throughout his career didn’t have any specific meaning. In his posthumously published book Sculpting in Time, he said that there are no symbols or metaphors in his films, and that rain was simply an omnipresent part of the Russian landscapes in which he had been raised. His goal was “to create my own world on the screen, in its ideal and most perfect form.” When considered from that perspective, his penultimate film Nostalghia may be the most perfect expression of that perfect form. It’s one of his most personal films, although even he didn’t realize why until later. The fascinating thing is that the environments that matter the most in Nostalghia ended up having to be created via artifice that was forced upon him by the circumstances of the film’s production, and the irony is that the need for that artifice is the main reason why Nostalghia is such a devastatingly personal film.

Tarkovsky wanted to make a film about the particularly intense nostalgia that Russians feel for their homeland, and how that makes it difficult for them to adapt to different circumstances. With the initial support of Mosfilm, he traveled to Italy in order to shoot Nostalghia, based on a scenario that he devised along with longtime Antonioni screenwriter Tonino Guerra. Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovsky) is a Russian poet who has traveled to Italy in order to research the life of expatriate Russian composer Maxim Berezovsky. Gorchakov struggles to connect with the Italian environment, and his lucid dreams of his beloved Russian home end up intermingling with his present-day reality. He also struggles to connect with his Italian translator Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano), but he feels an affinity for an eccentric local named Domenico (Erland Josephson), a former math teacher who has been driven mad by a desire to save the world from itself. While their paths end up diverging, the two men will end up trying to achieve the same goal through different means.

When Mosfilm withdrew its support for Nostalghia partway through the production, Tarkovsky was only able to finish the film thanks to local financing from RAI – Radiotelevisione italiana. He resolved never to return to Russia again, so Gorchakov’s dreams of his Russian home had to be recreated using Italian landscapes instead. Tarkovsky could now only dream of his own Russian home, so his life had become intertwined with Gorchakov’s in ways that he never could have anticipated—as he later wrote in Sculpting in Time, “How was I to have imagined that the stifling sense of longing that fills the screen spaces of that film was to become my lot for the rest of my life; that from now until the end of my days I would bear the painful malady within myself?” Gorchakov was unable to survive what the director described as “his own spiritual crisis,” and it’s not surprising that Tarkovsky wasn’t able to survive his own real-life spiritual crisis, either. While the official cause of his death was lung cancer (possibly contracted during his lengthy exposure to the toxic locations where he had shot Stalker), the reality is that he died of a broken heart.

Yet while both Gorchakov and Tarkovsky suffered from the same feeling of alienation in their newfound environments, they both also felt an affinity for Domenico’s mad quest to save the world. Domenico decides that he needs to wake up mankind by doing something drastic in order to call attention to the way that modern life has alienated everyone from their surroundings, and even more importantly, alienated everyone from each other as well. Tarkovsky felt a profound desire for mankind to return to a kind of spiritual unity, and that “people must be rescued not separately and individually but all together from the pitiless insanity of modern civilization.” Tarkovsky was drawn to individuals who were willing to serve higher causes like that, and unsurprisingly, his final film The Sacrifice would also feature Josephson as a man who sacrifices everything after making a deal with God in order to save the world from nuclear annihilation. The sacrifice that Domenico makes is of a very different but no less incendiary sort, and his final words to his indifferent onlookers were wrenched from the depths of Tarkovsky’s own soul:

“Society must become united again, instead of so disjointed. Just look at nature and you’ll see that life is simple. We must go back to where we were, to the point where we took a wrong turn. We must go back to the main foundations of life, without dirtying the water. What kind of world is this, if a madman tells you must be ashamed of yourselves?”

Cinematographer Guiseppe Lanci shot Nostalghia on 35mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.66:1 for its theatrical release. This version utilizes a 2022 restoration that was performed by the CSC (Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia) in collaboration with Augustus Color. Rai Cinema S.p.A. supplied the original camera negative, which was scanned at 4K resolution, with Lanci supervising the final color correction. In this case, it’s presented in Rec. 709 SDR, which is interesting because Lanci had an ENR bleach bypass process applied to theatrical release prints in order to increase the contrast range, deepen the blacks, and desaturate the colors. In an interview with The Film Stage, he said that he couldn’t achieve the same effect digitally, although the final results were still as close as possible to his original intentions. Of course, the expanded contrast range and improved color gamut from High Dynamic Range might have achieved something even closer to the effect that he wanted, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t look like he was involved with creating an HDR grade for Nostalghia.

In any event, HDR or not, this is a gorgeous digital restoration. The only damage that’s visible is a small series of scratches during the opening credits (in the trees behind the title scrawl) and a single very faint scratch in the heavily desaturated shot that follows. It’s possible that those existed in the original optical work and were deliberately left alone, because aside from a bit of debris at the bottom edge of the frame in a few shots, there’s no other damage remaining. The fine details and the grain are all perfectly resolved, aided by the fact that the bit rate runs consistently high, peaking over 100mpbs. (There have been a few online complaints about macroblocking, but it wasn’t an issue on my setup.) There’s an abundance of fog, rain, and mist throughout the film that does soften detail when it’s present, but textures like Gorchakov’s ubiquitous herringbone coat are otherwise sharp and clear. The colors are indeed desaturated, but they’re still well defined, and the contrast range is good considering the lack of HDR. Relative to previous home video releases of Nostalghia, the color balance here tends toward a slightly greenish cast, but there’s no guarantee that any of them are inherently more accurate than this is. In the absence of indisputable reference material, I’m going to defer to Lanci’s approval of this master. (Note that the black-and-white sequences were shot and printed on color stock, so they’re not quite pure black-and-white here, but that’s how they should look.)

Audio is offered in Italian (with some Russian) 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. The dialogue is clear, although it does have a touch of excessive sibilance at times (most noticeably when Domiziana Giordano is speaking). The music in Nostalghia is mostly source recordings of Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and while the original dynamic range is somewhat compressed here, there’s little distortion or other issues.

The Kino Classics 4K Ultra HD release of Nostalghia is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, as well as a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert. The following extras are included:


  • Audio Commentary by Daniel Bird


  • Audio Commentary by Daniel Bird
  • Voyage in Time (Upscaled SD – 64:52)
  • Interview with Guiseppe Lanci (HD – 27:12)
  • Re-Release Trailer (HD – 1:32)

The commentary is by writer and filmmaker Daniel Bird, who specializes in Eastern Bloc cinema and is the author of Boro: Walerian Borowczyk. He opens by describing how the theme of Nostalghia is what Tarkovsky was personally experiencing while he was making it, and that’s definitely the key to understanding the film. Bird identifies many of the hallmarks of Tarkovsky’s films, from his use of artwork like frescoes or other paintings and his predilection for long takes. Tarkovsky felt a compulsive urge to unify cinematic space and time (it’s no accident that his book was titled Sculpting in Time), and Bird says that if Eisenstein was all about breaking up that unity, Tarkovsky is the polar opposite. Rather than shooting typical coverage, Tarkovsky would choreograph his actors in long takes featuring elaborate but stately camera moves. As a result, his films will seem either boring or hypnotic, depending on the viewer, but Bird sees them as having been profoundly influential not just in the cinematic world, but in the video arts as well. He was able to do so much with so little.

Voyage in Time is a documentary about Tarkovsky and Nostalghia that was produced for RAI – Radiotelevisione italiana. It’s not so much about the making of the film as it is about its conception, which isn’t surprising considering that it was filmed by Tarkovsky and his co-writer Tonino Guerra (they’re both listed as directors) while they were exploring locations and planning the script. It’s more than that, though, because Guerra repeatedly presses Tarkovsky to think about his life as a filmmaker. As a result, Voyage in Time is far more intimate and revealing than a typical behind-the-scenes documentary would have been. Finally, the Interview with Guiseppe Lanci features the cinematographer describing his schooling, how he got into the film business, and his work with Tarkovsky. His does offer some technical information like his use of bleach bypass and subtly varied frame rates, but it’s mostly a more personal look at his collaboration with Tarkovsky. It’s clear that time hasn’t diminished the way that he was profoundly affected by Tarkovsky’s untimely death.

While the interview and the commentary track are both interesting enough on their own, the inclusion of Voyage in Time turns the whole slate of extras into an invaluable one. Nostalghia may not be what anyone would have expected as the first Andrei Tarkovsky film to be released on UHD, but it’s one of his most profoundly personal works, and the extras serve to emphasize that fact. No, it’s probably not the best choice for anyone who’s unfamiliar with Tarkovsky—Ivan’s Childhood or Andrei Rublev would be a better starting point—but for those who have already grown to appreciate his unique cinematic voice, it’s an essential purchase.

- Stephen Bjork

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