Aside from the images, which are often stunning, as is to be expected, the most significant part of Voyage in Time for me is when Tarkovsky answers a question about how he engages with the science Fiction genre. He notes that Solaris is his least favorite of his films because he felt that he wasn't able to transcend the genre—that sci-fi is an effort to escape or alter reality and that he prefers to look at real life head-on. It's not surprising, given these statements, that some of his favorite directors of the time are Antonioni and Bresson.
What is a little surprising is that Tarkovsky seems to feel like his films embrace reality in a way that the conventions of science fiction can't. The best sci-fi uses the kind of unreal elements he mentions to comment on or illuminate aspects of our current lives or society. Tarkovsky throughout his career, particularly in a movie like The Mirror, has used techniques that create a surreal, dreamlike tone — even in an early effort like Ivan's Childhood, you still get a heavy formalism that turns a very real world into a impressionistic nightmare.
So for me science fiction is a perfect genre for him (and yielded two of his best films), as it's well-suited to his own tendency to start with a stark emotional reality and twist the fabric of the world around his characters to meet that end. Perhaps he felt differently at the time because Nostalghia was more about injecting memory into one's daily reality.
Overall, Voyage in Time was more of an interesting end-note to Tarkovsky's career than a satisfying documentary in its own right. There are some stunning shots in it, and it did a nice job of making me think back to a lot of the movie's we've watched, but it's not something I'm going to remember on its own down the line.Your last comments are why I'm hesitating to call this a documentary. Admittedly, when we had decided we would include this in our look at Tarkovsky's career, I just saw the word Documentary associated with it and had my mind prepared accordingly. But this isn't anything like The Making of Fanny and Alexander, which is like a visual section of the book Bergman on Bergman. Voyage in Time is more of a standard Tarkovsky film, starting with the long panning shot of the Italian countryside pulling back to the patio of his partner Tonino Guerra. I was not surprised when Tarkovsky arrived and they started reciting poetry to each other, but the formalism of this document confused me a bit.
So I have to walk back my comments a bit. This is a documentary, but one where Tarkovsky is trying to give us a glance inside his thought process as he's making a film. As I've finished reading his diaries as well as Sculpting in Time, it feels like more of a visual aid that's adding beautiful stock footage to the thought process I'm already aware of. There's not much I was able to pull from the film as the subconscious beauty of his camerawork loses a step when they're placed so directly with observations like, "The ability for Italy to discover the depths of perspective has not been discovered yet."
That's the kind of visual to dialogue pairing I would expect from a Ken Burns documentary, not the greatest cinematic mind to come out of Russia. Still, as a glimpse into his visual thought process it is an illuminating companion piece to the books. He is someone who is always aware of the passage of time and watching his vision carefully looking over the hallways and paths of Italy it's easy to imagine how these surroundings would come to be used in Nostalghia.
As a documentary explicitly about Tarkovsky and his time in Italy, Voyage in Time is a bit lacking. But it's great to see that within the confines of a different style of film-making that Tarkovsky still tries to find ways to make it his own.
So much of Tarkovsky's power lies in the way he crafts images that seem almost mythic in the way they encompass an idea or emotional state so absolutely. Voyage in Time mixes a lot of Tarkovsky's own theories about his films with images that seem like they could be outtakes from any one of his efforts. What are the images that now, at the end of the project, stick with you the most?
For me there are three that seem to come up immediately and simultaneously:
- The woman walking backwards through the watery room in The Mirror. This scene captures the surreal Tarkovsky—the one who can take an image that makes no logical narrative sense and use it to develop a link with the audience through instant, instinctive understanding. In action figure form, this is Negative Capability Tarkovsky.
- The soldiers crossing through the river with the dead treeline in the background in Ivan's Childhood. There's an almost oppressive formalism to some of the scenes in Ivan's Childhood, and this one shows it at its best and most effective. The world of the characters is a nightmarish reflection of their reality.
- The final shot of Andrei Rublev (my vote for his best film), of Rublev comforting the boy who has just faked his way through building the bell. It's a visually stunning shot in the way it both literally and metaphorically encompasses so much life in a simple expanding frame. It's also probably the most representative of Tarkovsky's philosophy, one in which hope and persistence must be wrung out of struggle and fear.
- My favorite is the image of the guide in Stalker turned away from the professor and the writer as they all rest in the Zone. It's slightly unsettling as the camera rotates every so slightly to give the impression of this space where the laws of gravity appear a suggestion. The image of the guide, grounded by his calling and sneaking a moment of rest as the professor and writer continue to bait each other in the midst of this impossible space, is one of perfect acceptance of the unknown through his surety of purpose.
- Searching further, the closing shot of Nostalghia is one that fills me with a lot of hope. The sight of the Russian home inside the massive collapsing Italian cathedral made me simultaneously homesick and secure. I have lived in many states, some for a very brief span of time, and the idea that we can take bits of these places with us to create a space for ourselves in the midst of an alien landscape is one I take great comfort in.
- I also have to close with something from Ivan's Childhood. As the soldier and woman kiss over what looks to be a simple gap, the camera pans down to show that he is holding her up over a dangerous drop. This expression of lust is vital as the two walk through the dead woods, but it's that final pan of the camera that shows the potential futility of their expression. Yet their kiss continues in amidst that death, another hope born from struggle even if it may fail.