The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
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Andrei Tarkovsky Podcast

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TarkovskycastAndrew and Kyle settle down to discuss their weeks exploring the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, including his collected diaries and film theory book Sculpting in Time.  Next Friday they'll be discussing the next project.  In the meantime, settle down, and listen as they explore their feelings after watching Tarkovsky's brilliant films.

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Andrei Tarkovsky: Voyage in Time (1983)

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Soon to prayKyle Commentary BannerAside 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.


Andrei Tarkovsky: The Sacrifice (1986)

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"Этот фильм посвящается моему сыну Andriosha с надеждой и уверенностью."

An aging critic (Erland Josephson) tries to find meaning through release and destruction in Andrei Tarkovsky's final film, The Sacrifice.

LonelyAndrewCommentaryBannerI have the same problem with The Sacrifice that I did with Nostalghia last week.  Both are works that bear the signs of Tarkovsky's advancing age and disease, with characters obsessed with answers and their looming end.  They're also packed with reflection, dialogue that deals with stories and parable of their past and the fictions that mattered most to them.  In The Sacrifice the importance of fiction bleeds into the setting as Tarkovsky films on the island home of Ingmar Bergman, and makes use of Bergman's long-time cinematographer Sven Nykvist.

Even with those details this film is unquestionably a Tarkvosky project.  Never have his characters seemed so lost than the way they do on this island.  He films almost all the outdoor scenes in an extreme long-shot, letting us take in the nearly inconsequential way their presence on the island affect its landscape.  Even inside, Tarkovsky's lens flattens the inhabitants, making them seem gaunt and unsubstantial, like at any time they could float away.

The moments when The Sacrifice threatens to take blow these gaunt figures away that the film becomes vital.  It's during the dream sequences, when Alexander stumbles around the giant house, and finds that the way forward is never as easy as it seems.  One stunning shot shows Alexander approaching a hallway that leads outdoors with lush vegetation, only to have Alexander's shadow suddenly envelop the view as we see that it is merely a tapestry that leads to more darkness.  Another unexpected road block that gave me a quick chill is when Alexander is having a nightmare and when he tries to find shelter finds that the only door to safety has been blocked off by brick.

These are images that scream of spiritual anguish, of a beautiful path forward that is forever an illusion.  But as great as these scenes are, I still found the film a bit lacking because Tarkovsky lets the Bergman overwhelm the fabric of the film.  This doesn't necessarily make it a failure, and there are still those powerful moments, but I caught myself more playing "Catch the Bergman reference" than anything else.  The newscast warning of apocalypse could have been dropped into Shame, the tree that they plant and return to from the beginning seemed lifted from The Virgin Spring, and there are the many painful reflections that would have been at home in Cries and Whispers.

I hesitate to say any of this is bad, but I was expecting a Tarkovsky film to close out his career, not a Bergman film in contemplative long shot.  Erland Josephson is a splendid actor, and made for a nervy presence in Nostalghia, but here he felt like he was trying to channel the intense introspection of Max von Sydow.  It's a film of masters pretending to someone else's work, and the cumulative effect is a bit off-putting.  At the same time, for someone as unyieldingly positive in his spirituality as Tarkovsky was, it also seems fitting that he would do a film that closes out his life that pays tribute to the one who inspired him the most.

That's it for his feature films Kyle, and next week is a documentary.  How did you feel this film closed out his life?


Andrei Tarkovsky: Nostalghia (1983)

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"Великие вещи конца. Маленькие вещи терпеть."

In his first film outside Soviet Russia, Andrei Tarkovsky taps into the isolation he feels separated from his homeland in the appropriately titled Nostalghia.  The similarly-named Andrei (Oleg Yankovsky) wanders through Italy researching the life of a suicidal artist.  His interpreter Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) becomes smitten with the reclusive man and he becomes intrigued by Domenico (Erland Josephson), the possibly insane prophet.

Light the fireKyle Commentary BannerNostalghia is returning to similar territory as The Mirror, but in a different form and from an older man's perspective. The Mirror had some turmoil to its images at times—as if the memories were in a state of flux and may turn out differently the second or third time around—which indicated a mind trying to sort through a life and make peace out of disparate moments. Nostalghia, as the title suggests, is less about making sense of a life, and more about mourning what has passed. The film isn't particularly sad, but there is a sadness accepted in the way it views the past as something that is ever-present in one's own mind.

I love the way memories and dreams slip into the man's reality here (also named Andrei this time around, and again drawing from Tarkovsky's father's poems), especially that early scene where he passes out on his bed and the light increases to show him laying next to (presumably) his wife from back home in Russia. He gets up and the camera stays on her in a profile shot, revealing that she's pregnant, pulling back slightly so we can see that she's laying on the bed in the room the man went to sleep in, before the light finally fades back out and the man wakes up alone again. It's a great move that makes literal the presence of memories, and it primes us for later shots where the man looks off-screen to see his homeland with his family and house in the distance, or some shots late in the film where he seems to be walking through an actual remembered place.

Nostalghia bears further viewings, though really that could be said of all of Tarkovsky's features so far. The ending scenes are beautiful in his familiar haunting way, and I think they may help contextualize a lot of what we're seeing a bit differently on a second watch through. Most of the rest of what I have to say here pertains to The Question, so what did you think?


Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker (1979)

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"Лучше иметь горький счастья, чем серая, скучная, жизнь."

Andrei Tarkovsky leaves the autobiographical and reenters the realm of science-fiction.  In Stalker,  a mysterious place, "The Zone", that defies the laws of physics is under constant guard by military forces.  Inside The Zone there is said to be a room that grants the entrant's strongest desire.  The stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) knows how to get to this room, and leads the writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and the scientist (Nikolai Grinko) through The Zone.

The guardianAndrewCommentaryBannerWhen I finished watching Stalker, my thoughts drifted back to the quote that Ingmar Bergman gave on Tarkovsky's work.  Bergman said, "Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream."  Now that we are two films away from finishing his catalog, I understand why Bergman felt so strongly about Tarkovsky.  From his early films on Tarkovsky's world has been filled with organic spirituality that informs the images and dialogue instead of becoming consumed by them.  His world stands in almost direct rebuke to Bergman's, much like Stalker feels very much like a response to Winter Light.

I was in rapture for all of Stalker.  The last time I felt this captivated by a film was when I watched A SeparationStalker is so totally allegorical without feeling like it is preaching down to us at all.  I think it's telling that we have rarely seen Tarkovsky's camera going into a God's eye view or distance.  The ending of Solaris is the strongest example I can think of as Dr. Kelvin became embraced into the God-like consciousness of the planet's ocean.  Instead Tarkovsky makes sure we are right down there with them.  The mortals are the one's floating through existence, as we floated along before with the exuberant inventor at the beginning of Andrei Rublev, and literally drift on through the streams and structures of  Stalker.

With little special effects, Tarkovsky created a world where physics no longer matter and private thoughts become free to roam.  When the Stalker and his two companions rest in The Zone I was amazed at the way Tarkovsky used the frame to make it seems as though each man was resting in a different part of a loosely assembled collection of nature and human construct.  He associates each man with a different attribute, one floating on a small patch of land, another resting against a stone facade, and the other in the grass.  Tarkovsky trust in the camera so implicitly that we accept that the man on the stone façade seems to be sleeping on the wall.  The audience is allowed to piece the moment together where gravity abandons them instead of in that other landmark sci-fi film 2001 where great pains were taken to show the weightlessness of space.