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Related Articles: Nostalghia, featured in Issue No. 15 of Senses of Cinema and Solaris: Exploring the Frontier of the Subconscious, featured in Issue No. 4 of Senses of Cinema.


Ivanovo detstvo, 1962
[Ivan's Childhood/My Name is Ivan]

BurlyayevOn an idyllic summer day, a 12 year old boy named Ivan (Nikolai Burlyayev) ventures into the woods and spots a cuckoo. He begins to levitate above the forest, rejoins his mother (Irma Raush Tarkovskaya), and begins to share his discovery. Then the peaceful reunion between mother and son is truncated by Ivan's rude awakening to the sound of mortar firing. Suddenly, it is evening, and a hungry, weary Ivan awakens in the attic of an empty windmill. Like the opening scene of Andrei Rublev, the surreal episode proves to be an intangible dream. Resuming his reconnaissance mission, Ivan then crosses a treacherous swamp amidst enemy fire. Unable to rendezvous with his contact, Corporal Katasonych (Stepan Krylov), Ivan arrives at an alternate Russian bunker, where his credentials are immediately questioned by the ranking officer, Lieutenant Galtsev (Yevgeni Zharikov). Despite his skepticism, Galtsev calls Ivan's superior, Colonel Gryaznov (Nikolai Grinko), who confirms his identity, dispatches Captain Kholin (Valentin Zubkov) to bring him back to headquarters. Gryaznov has taken an interest in the welfare of the young orphan, and has decided to enroll him in a military academy, reasoning that war has no place for children. Ivan refuses to leave, and argues that his age and stealth make him an ideal scout for their missions. Unable to persuade his superiors, Ivan runs away from the barracks, only to find a ravaged, desolate wasteland outside its walls. With nowhere left to turn, he returns with his superiors back to camp. However, despite the officers' reluctance, Ivan is enlisted for a final mission as they prepare for another covert operation.

Andrei Tarkovsky presents an austere, bleak and haunting portrait of lost innocence in Ivan's Childhood. Tarkovsky uses sharp, contrasting scenes of light and darkness to visually delineate between the idealization of a normal life and its seeming elusiveness in the hopelessness of war: the brightness of the sunshine during Ivan's dream sequences and Kholin's courtship of the nurse, Masha (Valentina Malyavina) at a birch forest provide a jarring transition from the dark trenches, murky swamps, and poorly lit barracks of the battlefield. Nevertheless, within the daylight sequences, Tarkovsky continues to reinforce a pervasive sense of entrapment and helplessness: the spider web on the opening shot; Ivan bathing in the well; Kholin's stolen kiss from Masha while straddling a trench. What emerges is an ominous and incongruent coexistence of nature and frontiers, humanity and cruelty, youth and nihilism - a reflection of the austere and unnatural landscape of war.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Andrei Rublev, 1969
[The Passion According to Andrei]

Raush/SolonitsynThe abstract opening sequence of Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev reflects the mystical undercurrent that flows throughout the film: a peasant sneaks into a tower to ride aboard a primitive hot air balloon. He succeeds in briefly soaring into the atmosphere, only to crash violently into the ground. To dissect every frame of Andrei Rublev and attempt to derive specificity from its anatomy would, not only take volumes, but more importantly, be completely subjective. Filmed in stark black and white (excluding the epilogue), and using long shots and fluid tracking, Andrei Rublev is a visual and cerebral journey: a thematically adaptive interpretation of Rublev's life, a conduit into the bleak existence of medieval Russia, a meditation on the search for the spiritual and artistic light. Contrary to what the title suggests, the film is not a biographical account of the Russian icon painter. Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn) is, in fact, almost a peripheral character: a chronicler of medieval life, attempting to create religious art in a harsh world devoid of inspiration and community. Tarkovsky is not interested in exalting Rublev through extreme sacrifices nor great acts of kindness. He is all too human: a monk tempted by a sensual pagan woman, an artist doubting his skills in completing a church, a Christian who commits a fundamental sin. That Rublev's work survives today is a testament to his struggle to find beauty and inner peace in his turbulent world. It is a theme that resurfaces throughout Tarkovsky's tragically abbreviated career: man in relation to, and as a consequence of, his environment.

Rublev's nomadic existence is not only a physical consequence of his itinerant work, but also a symbolic representation of his spiritual wandering. Rublev seeks inner peace through the solemnity of his monastic existence, but is plagued with uncertainty. Historically, the environmental turmoil represented by the hedonistic peasants, pagan rituals, and Tatar raids serve as a metaphor for his own ambivalence and spiritual bankruptcy. Cinematically, Tarkovsky employs singular, cyclic shots that traverse exterior and interior spaces to symbolize man's interaction with his environment. Episodically, the thematic cycle is reflected in the return of the humbled monk Kirill (Ivan Lapikov), simple minded Durochka (Irma Raush), and the imprisoned jester (Rolan Bykov) at the bell casting, supervised by a young bell founder (Nikolai Burlyayev), who, essentially, is a young Rublev. There, at the casting, the disillusioned older Rublev wanders around the formation of the bell, cursorily drawn to the process. In the end, after its successful tolling, the young founder confesses his deception to the elder monk. Then the camera slowly tracks outward, soaring overhead, like the peasant in the hot air balloon. Rublev's passion is restored.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

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Solaris, 1972

Bondarchuk/BanionisGround control has been receiving strange transmissions from the three remaining cosmonauts aboard the Solaris space station: Dr. Snouth (Yuri Yarvet), Dr. Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn), and Dr. Gibarian (Sos Sarkisyan). The Solaris program is at a crossroads, and psychologist Dr. Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) has been assigned to visit the crew, report on their mental health, and recommend a course of action to the agency. On the day before his flight, he is visited by a former cosmonaut, Berton (Vladislav Dvozhetsky), who, years earlier, was sent on a rescue mission, and had a firsthand encounter with the bizarre metamorphosis of the Solaris ocean. But Kelvin is unmoved, believing that human emotion has no bearing in the search for Truth, and raises the possibility of, not only abandoning the Solaris mission, but aiming radiation at the turbulent ocean in order to destroy its inexplicable activity. Upon arriving at the space station, Kelvin is greeted by apathy and evasion, along with the tragic news of Gibarian's suicide. A videotaped message shows a frail, disheveled Gibarian driven to despair by tormented visions of a lost loved one, and a profound sense of isolation. However, after a restless night's sleep, he begins to realize the validity of Berton and the crew's seeming hallucinations after his dead wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) mysteriously reappears on the station.

BondarchukSolaris is Andrei Tarkovsky's visually hypnotic, deeply affecting, and thematically accessible film on love, conscience, and reconciliation. Similar to other Tarkovsky films, most notably Andrei Rublev and The Sacrifice, Solaris is an unsettling portrait of man's inequitable, often destructive interaction with his environment. Symbolically, Tarkovsky uses curvilinear structures, confined spaces, and disorganization to represent the emotional and physical turmoil of the space station. Furthermore, periodic changes in lighting and moments of weightlessness preclude any sense of rhythm, creating a literal imbalance. Chromatic shifts, which initially occur to delineate chronology, increase in frequency with the development of the story, reflecting the crew's assimilation of the two states of consciousness. In the end, the Truth proves to be as elusive as the thinly veiled reality of Solaris: Can a man truly reconcile with his irretrievable past, or is he inexorably bound to the guilt and regret of his spiritual longing?

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Zerkalo, 1975
[Mirror/The Looking Glass]

MirrorMirror is Andrei Tarkovsky's visually transcendent, artistically revelatory autobiographical film on lost innocence and emotional abandonment. Presented as a languidly paced, achronological cinematic montage of modern day life, personal memories, historical news footage, and dreams, Mirror is an introspective journey through the course of human existence, hope and despair, success and frailty: a television broadcast of a young man seemingly cured from stuttering through hypnosis; a neglected wife (Margarita Terekhova) humoring a village doctor who has lost his way; a custodial argument between a faceless narrator (Innokenty Smoktunovsky) and his ex-wife; a precocious young man trying the patience of his military instructor (Yuri Nazarov). To attempt to conform these images into some coherent plot or universal conclusion is meaningless. After all, Mirror is a reflection of Tarkovsky's haunted soul: his search for spirituality, connection, Truth - exposed through indelible images that inevitably define our own imperfect lives, however trivial or mundane.

MirrorAndrei Tarkovsky deliberately obscures time by using the same actors to portray the two phases of the narrator's life: the fatherless boy attempting to reach out to his distracted mother, and the distant father unable to relate to his self-absorbed son. Anachronistic newsreels of world events are interspersed to provide environmental reference and tonal shift. The structure of the film constantly evolves through the use of flashbacks and flash forwards, defined through chromatic shifts. This results in a film that is thematically cyclical, reflecting the narrator's pattern of alienation and emotional isolation. The absence of logical order in the film elicits a visceral reaction from the audience: the knowledge that we have experienced truth in all its intoxicating beauty and desperate longing... and perhaps even a brief connection with the artist himself.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

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Stalker, 1979

KaidanovskyTwenty years ago, a meteorite fell to Earth, and decimated a provincial Russian town. Villagers traveled through this curious area, now known as The Zone, and disappeared. Stories purport that there is an inner chamber within The Zone called The Room that grants one's deepest wish. Fearing the consequences from such an inscrutable resource, the army immediately secured the area with barbed wire and armed patrol. But the desperate and the suffering continue to make the treacherous journey, led by a disciplined, experienced stalker who can stealthily navigate through the constantly changing traps and pitfalls of The Zone. A successful Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn), perhaps searching for inspiration or adventure, and a Scientist (Nikolai Grinko) searching for Truth, enlist the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) to guide them through The Zone. The Stalker has been trained by a renowned stalker named Porcupine, who, after an excursion with his brother into The Zone, returned alone and infinitely wealthy, only to commit suicide a week later. Soon, it is evident that reaching The Zone is not their greatest impediment, but the uncertainty over their deepest wish. As the men approach the threshold to The Room, their fear and trepidation for the materialization of their answered prayers leads to profound revelation and self-discovery.

Stalker is a visually serene, highly metaphoric, and deeply haunting treatise on the essence of the soul. Episodically, Andrei Tarkovsky uses chromatic shifts to delineate between the outside world and The Zone. Thematically, as in Solaris, the transition serves as an oneiric device to separate physical reality from the subconscious. The created barriers and imposed laws of the outside world parallel the Stalker's incoherent tracking methods for reaching The Room. Note that despite the Stalker's warning not to use the same path twice, the Scientist returns to retrieve his knapsack unharmed, casting doubt on the Stalker's navigational rules. Symbolically, it is as if the subconscious is in denial of its sincerest wish, creating its own boundaries and impediments to prevent its realization. After a circuitous route, the men arrive at the antechamber to The Room, hesitant to proceed, unable to define their innermost wish: their spiritual longing. The floor is strewn with coins, hypodermic needles, weapons, and religious icons: a reflection of the mind's search for escape from its misery. In the end, The Zone's real or imagined powers proves to be inconsequential to the weary, ambivalent seekers. It was all in the journey.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Nostalghia, 1983
[Nostalgia]

YankovskyIf the neorealist cinema of Vittorio de Sica and Federico Fellini explored the empirical essence of a man's primordial soul, Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia is the poetic expression of the spiritual soul. Andrei Gortchakov (Oleg Yankovsky), a Russian author, is on an Italian research expedition with his beautiful translator, Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) to retrace the journey of an 18th Russian composer named Sosnovsky who, despite achieving international recognition away from his homeland, eschewed fame and returned to the humble life of a feudal serf, only to sink further into despair and commit suicide: the Madonna of Childbirth statue at a rural church where women pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary; a therapeutic hot springs pool in Bagno Vignoni where villagers bathe every morning, attempting to reclaim youth; an eccentric old man named Domenico (Erland Josephson) who once imprisoned his family for seven years in an apocalyptic delusion. Domenico implores Andrei with a seemingly innocuous task that he, considered mentally unstable by the villagers, is unable to execute, to cross the natural spring with a lit candle, as part of his redemptive design. Andrei is reluctant to undertake his incoherent request, but is intrigued by the fragmented messenger, and does not refuse him. He spurns the sensual Eugenia who inevitably leaves him, preferring to immerse himself in the solitude of his surreal memories and vague conversations. Note the chromatic shift between the lush Italian landscape and the muted tone of the Russian countryside, illustrating his nostalghia, the pervasive longing for meaning - the spiritual enlightenment - that has eluded him. Separated from his family, far from his homeland, and now alone, he sets out to perform the existential mission.

YankovskyHighly cerebral, beautifully realized, and symbolically obscure, Nostalghia is a cinematic abstract of spiritual hunger. Indeed, Andrei's indefinite journey, the church supplicants, and Domenico's final incomprehensible act, manifest this innate longing. Note the final scene where Andrei shields the precariously lit candle by opening his overcoat. It is a symbolic revelation of the soul - the quest to unify the unexplored frontiers of his own subconscious and struggle against the extinguishing of the figurative spiritual flame - that inevitably redeems him. But it is an ominous closure, as muted colors now suffuse the Italian streets, tainting them with the same melancholic longing that consumes him. Tarkovsky filmed Nostalghia in exile and dedicated the film to the memory of his mother. It is a threnodic film that mourns an irretrievable past and an uncertain future.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

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Offret, 1986
[The Sacrifice]

Sacrifice posterThe Sacrifice is Andrei Tarkovsky's final, visually intoxicating and profoundly spiritual masterpiece about the end of the world. The film's initial image sets the tone for Tarkovsky's deeply personal statement on humanity's self-destruction. There is a close-up of a painting depicting an offering (to the haunting, threnodic oratorio of Johann Sebastian Bach). The camera then pans upward to show the people in the painting, then another sectional shift, and the camera focuses on a tree above them. We first see the long shot of a pensive Alexander (Erland Josephson), a wealthy, retired stage actor, planting a tree with his son. His family has gathered at his remote, isolated house on the countryside to be with him on his birthday. In true Tarkovsky subtle narrative style, during dinner preparations, the glasses clink, the room shakes, then the sound of a concussive wave is heard. Is it an earthquake? We find out from fragments of news broadcasts that World War III has begun. In a desperate attempt to save his family, he decides to offer himself as a sacrifice - to relinquish all of his worldly possessions and part with his loved ones if they can be spared from the horror. But how does one make such a covenant? He prays to God, he pleads with a housemaid whom he suspects is a witch, he suffers in silence. He appears melancholy, despondent, even delusional. The beauty of Alexander's sacrifice is that no one realizes what he is trying to do (and the lengths that he will go to) in order to save his family... a true sacrifice. The Sacrifice is a devastating, but powerfully reaffirming film on love, humanity, and faith.

The long, singular shots and deliberately paced story are compelling signature techniques used by Tarkovsky. Note the distance of the subjects in most of the film: from the opening dialogue between Otto and Alexander to the turmoil of the final scene. Tarkovsky shows humanity in proper respect to the environment. Indeed, how narcissistic we are, as a society, to create films where character close-ups are frivolously used for no other reason than to show how attractive an actor is. We are drawn into Tarkovsky's world, not by blatant, instinctual eye candy (not that Mr. Josephson is unphotogenic), but by the pathos and subtle beauty of the visual imagery. By placing the subjects in such a perspective, the effect is captivating, narrative, honest, and above all, contemplative. Tarkovsky uses muted, washed colors in the country house scenes, suffused with gray tones depicting the apocalyptic destruction of war. Note the pale color of the woods where Alexander takes his son for a walk. The anemic landscape illustrates Tarkovsky's (like Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski) masterful use of color as a symbolic medium. It conveys the idea that nature, and humanity itself, is "sick": from the devastating effects of war and nuclear proliferation, and from humanity's indifference and loss of spirituality. It is a heartfelt statement from a thoughtful artist facing imminent mortality, with a profound wisdom to share.

© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.

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