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Andrei Tarkovsky (Merged)


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#1 of 28 OFFLINE   john davies

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Posted November 04 2003 - 01:56 PM

Andrei Tarkovsky
by John Davies


The son of a celebrated poet quoted in his films, Andrei Tarkovsky was born in 1932, in the Volga countryside not far from Moscow. Undoubtedly the most important post-war Russian director, his status has been recognised in a range of international festivals and polls - Andrei Rublev, Mirror and Stalker regularly featuring strongly in 'Sight and Sound''s top 100, among others.


Tarkovsky's feature-length debut, Venice Golden Lion winner Ivan's Childhood (1962) is an accessible, welcoming introduction to the major themes (dreams and memories, freedom and childlike faith) and lustrous, ethereal landscapes, which characterise his career. A particular favourite of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, its touching story of a young World War 2 scout makes for a lyrical companion to Klimov's "Come and See" (1985).

Completed in 1966 but delayed for several years by the Soviet authorities, the towering episodic epic Andrei Rublev stands not only as the most convincing portrait of the middle ages but with its ambitious scope, astounding set pieces and glorious colour finale -icons almost burst the screen- as a prime contender for the coveted title of "greatest film".

If the sometimes ponderous ruminations of Solaris (1972), a striking space odyssey inappropriately pigeon-holed as a socialist riposte to 2001, hint that Tarkovsky's mysticism may be better suited to Earth, it nevertheless has many fervent admirers. For Mark le Fanu, author of an exemplary book on the director, it is a "majestic and achieved work of art".

At the centre of his oeuvre, the fathomless autobiographical Mirror (1974) fully justifies Chris Peachment's exhortation to "see it above all for a series of images of such luminous beauty that they will make your heart burst". The sustained, ecstatic concentration of its poetry is unmatched. Once roundly condemned at home for obscurity, its reputation now rivals that of Andrei Rublev.

Stalker (1979) is an equally mesmerising experience: transcending its grim industrial setting, eerie, hallucinatory visions accompany the lugubrious trio who venture into its reality-altering radioactive Zone.

Reputedly only denied the 1983 Cannes Palme d'Or by the machinations of Sergei Bondarchuk, Nostalgia concerns the awkward relationship between a Soviet professor researching in Italy and his pretty interpreter. A year before Tarkovsky asserted his artistic independence by voluntary exile in the West, its shimmering reveries already ache with homesick longing: never has a fog-bound Tuscany seemed so resolutely Russian.

By the time of his final film, set on a desolate stretch of Swedish coast, he was dying of cancer. Typically uncompromising in its pacing and anti-nuclear message, The Sacrifice (1986) is a stately, disdainfully imperious achievement. Enhanced by the masterful long-take cinematography of (Bergman regular) Nykvist, it is worth seeing for its opening sequence alone.

The director's serious moral concerns and probing scrutiny of spiritual malaise have inevitably prompted comparisons with Bergman, an admirer who proclaimed him "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".

For all its Northern melancholy, Tarkovsky's cinema resonates with a radiant, redemptive optimism. In Andrei Rublev, the atrocity-haunted artist breaks his silence in wonderment at a novice bell-maker's leap of faith. Mirror begins with the remarkable curing of a stutter and Stalker ends, not in enveloping despair, but with Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and a disabled young girl's telepathic movement of three glasses. In The Sacrifice, nuclear holocaust is averted by a seemingly mad religious conviction, while the single most abiding image is of a boy planting a tree.

The quite astonishing visual and aural imagery (rain, mist, fire, wind and grass rendered unmistakeably, inimitably "Tarkovskian") repeatedly makes the mundane miraculous, everyday elements and objects divine. And through Faith humankind can literally take flight.

With all seven features currently available, the auteur's rapturous, challenging, complex world - of witches, Tatar hordes, symbolic horses, mysterious stray dogs, forests, rivers, meadows, Brueghelesque snowscapes, Renaissance paintings, balloons, space stations and levitation - can be studied and enjoyed at leisure. "Blazing with posthumous light", this utterly unique set of films is ideal for collection.

#2 of 28 OFFLINE   Chris Harvey

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Posted November 05 2003 - 03:28 AM

I've only seen RUBLYEV, STALKER, and SOLARIS, but I'm a big Tarkovsky fan. He definitely demands patience, particularly with a modern viewer used to quick cutting, but the rewards are a building emotional and intellectual connection with his films. His eye for striking images is astounding, and he has a way of offering up a final image to a film that somehow manages to represent many of the themes explored earlier, but always in a subtle and un-expected manner.

#3 of 28 OFFLINE   Steve Felix

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Posted November 05 2003 - 11:15 AM

I've seen Andrei Rublev and Solaris, and while I have great respect for the art of these films, the apparent abuse of horses for symbolic effect in Rublev seriously concerns me. Did my eyes decieve me? Was it just really awesome CGI for '66? I don't want to derail the thread since I agree that Tarkovsky was a genius, but he's tainted in my mind.

And how about that driving sequence in Solaris? Posted Image Brilliance has quirks, I guess.
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#4 of 28 OFFLINE   Brook K

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Posted November 06 2003 - 05:38 AM

No, it happened. In certain scenes the horse was specially trained to contort itself into strange positions but in others, the horse was injured. Tarkovsky has said this was a horse that was on its way to the glue factory and would have been killed in any event.

Personally this has never really bothered me as I'm not a pet person and we slaughter zillions of animals every day but I can understand how this would be disturbing to some people.

Nice summary on Tarkovsky's career. I think each of his films I've seen is fantastic and I look forward to eventually seeing the rest of his canon (haven't seen Ivan's Childhood, The Sacrifice or The Steamroller and the Violin)
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#5 of 28 OFFLINE   john davies

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Posted November 06 2003 - 06:57 AM

I admit the horse(s) suffering has worried me, and is the only drawback to appreciation of what remains an awesome masterpiece, but then again, as Brook reminds, i'm a meat-eating "animal lover" (as are many directors). Time to go vegetarian again!

This issue brings to mind the famous scene in Apocalypse Now- and animals being slaughtered in other films such as In a Year of 13 Moons, Tree of the Wooden Clogs and The Colour Of Pomegranates.

#6 of 28 OFFLINE   ChrisWiggles

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Posted November 07 2003 - 01:47 PM

There's a film out that's called Japon, from Mexico, but is done by a big follower of tarkovsky. I'm heading out this evening to go see it, I will report back. I've only seen Stalker, and a scene from the Sacrifice, but was impressed with Stalker. It grew on me a lot after I saw it.

#7 of 28 OFFLINE   MartinTeller

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Posted November 07 2003 - 02:11 PM

The animal abuse definitely disturbed me. Not just the horses... let's not forget the cow on fire. Apparently it was covered in asbestos, but I'm sure it was still pretty awful. There's just no excuse for it. It's not like stuntmen. The animals didn't sign up to be in a movie. And even if they were doomed to the glue factory or whatever, you have to wonder about the kind of guy who would want to do that to animals in the first place. The brutality of the situation was clear enough without the animal abuse, so it wasn't necessary to make a point.

#8 of 28 OFFLINE   Tim Raffey

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Posted November 07 2003 - 09:04 PM

Martin,
You'd have to read no more than six words of anything Tarkovsy's ever written to be able to suppose that art holds a place higher in his ideals than even morality (not to say the two aren't deeply connected).
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#9 of 28 OFFLINE   john davies

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Posted November 08 2003 - 09:00 AM

Chris; i enjoyed Japon very much. It's no doubt too slow and deliberately "arty" (may seem slightly pretentious) for many tastes, but the respect for Tarkovsky is unmistakeable, even down to choice of music. The director (Reygadas- very promising) says he was also influenced by Bresson in his handling of actors; i.e mainly carefully restricted minimalist performances. I look forward to see if he can develop his own style further.

#10 of 28 OFFLINE   richardWI

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Posted November 08 2003 - 09:46 AM

I really enjoyed Solaris but hated The Sacrifice. The Sacrifice just seemed like cinematic wheat germ: the boring ravings of a cranky old man. It was incredibly pretentious to think that we're just going sit though his lectures and finger pointing in awe.

Tark was trying way too hard to make a Bergman film when he should have devoted his energy into making a Tarkovsky film. It had more people standing around posing than a Matrix movie. I had to shut if off when the woman had her hysterionic fit that just went on and on. What is it with him and Bergman having long segements of women screaming at the top of their lungs and writhing around as if having an epileptic attack? Why does that pass for Art?

#11 of 28 OFFLINE   ChrisWiggles

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Posted November 08 2003 - 10:03 AM

Oh yeah, I forgot to report back on Japon.

I dunno. I get mixed feelings I guess. I thought it was absolutely masterfully done, a good replication of Tarkovsky's style that I saw in the Stalker. Plodding, yes, but I am ok with that. I just thought the whole sexual wierdness was...well....wierd, and not particularly pleasant to watch. It just seemed to get more dark as it went on, and more depressing. Obviously it's way out of the mainstream, and I'd be wary recommending it to anyone but film buffs who are experienced in sitting through stranger films. So while I don't really know if I liked it or not, I am glad I saw it.

I guess I am more used to Kurosawa, who, while he focuses a lot on humanity's negative sides, also has a very positive visual world, that is very pleasing to watch.

The stalker was very cold, and I thought Japon was too, it just seemed that behind every shot something was eerily amiss.

I also speak spanish, and got a kick out of some of the dialog that didn't get translated, along with the authenticity of it, which on the other hand, sort of highlighted that the acting was a little not quite so great in a couple scenes. The scene where the workers are all drunk for instance, one drunk guy starts complaining about how the movie crew wasn't paying him enough, and everyone quickly gets him to shut up, I thought that was great (wasn't translated though).

Anyway, my reactions were mixed, but I'm glad I saw it. I thought it was very well done.

#12 of 28 OFFLINE   Sean Campbell

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Posted November 09 2003 - 02:27 AM

I personally regard Stalker as being one of the best movies ever made. I bought it as a blind purchase back in the mid 90s ( on VHS ) after reading several glowing reviews in various sci-fi/fantasy guidebooks. I was amazed by the film I saw. The pace is slow but it's wonderfully hypnotic and the early b/w sequences are amongst the most gripping pieces of cinema I've seen. I love the way Tarkovsky managed to suggest an 'alien' feeling within The Zone without using a single special effect. The simple use of wind, water and patches of silence is genuinely fantastic. There's a wonderful sequence about halfway through when the characters stop for a rest and the camera follows the passage of a thin stream. Through the water we see broken floor tiles, pieces of junk and eventually various weapons. The sequence is very slow and drawn out but it's almost impossible to take your eyes off the screen. The wonderful climax confirms that those touched by The Zone really are magical individuals. Pure brilliance.
After seeing Stalker, I went out and bought Solaris and The Sacrifice. Solaris was wonderful, full of excellent shots such as the trip through the motorway and the brilliant final scene. The Sacrifice was the least enjoyable of the three, but it still held many great moments. The b/w scenes of the city in panic are confusing at first, but become great as the story progresses. And the final scene ( done in one take ) is simply amazing.
I have since bought all three movies on DVD.
I plan on picking up Andrei Rublev pretty soon.

#13 of 28 OFFLINE   Paul_D

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Posted July 03 2004 - 09:58 PM

I saw The Mirror yesterday, and I'd really appreciate a detailed plot outline, because there are lots and lots of elements that I have absolutely no clue about.
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#14 of 28 OFFLINE   Eric.

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Posted July 03 2004 - 11:34 PM

I'm also a big Tarkovsky fan and although you have to be in the mood to watch his work they really are rewarding after multible viewings.Paul you chose the hardest one to get a handle on with The Mirror ,the same actress plays mother/wife and there is alot of switching in timelines in that film.
My personal favorite is Nostalghia ,one of the most beautiful movies ever made.

#15 of 28 OFFLINE   Paul_D

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Posted July 03 2004 - 11:46 PM

Are the two women related in any way?
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#16 of 28 OFFLINE   SteveGon

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Posted July 03 2004 - 11:53 PM

John, nicely written! I fall into the camp of those who admire Tarkovsky more than they like him. His films are beautiful and mysterious, but only accessible to those with patience - I really have to be in the right frame of mind to screen a Tarkovsky. That said, you've whetted my appetite so I may just have to break open that copy of The Mirror I bought some time ago. (I've seen most of the Tarkovsky canon; this is one of the last holdouts.)

Glad to see the intense Come and See mentioned. Posted Image

#17 of 28 OFFLINE   Daniel P

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Posted July 19 2004 - 10:50 PM

I'm fairly new to this great director's work, something I'm embarassed to admit. Heck, where I come from, I can't recall ever hearing his name mentioned in my 27 years in Australia - so maybe that can be my excuse Posted Image. I've (since becoming accustomed to Tarkovsky's work) noticed that select cinemas play Rublev occasionally, but that's about it. Sure, Bergman and Fellini are mentioned from time to time, and I've heard Truffaut's name a few times, but that's about it. Maybe I was raised in the wrong location, which is probably true, but I was never exposed to foreign cinema.

Well thank god for the Internet. A means of serious study, and sharing information and (pop)culture with the rest of the world.

So anyway, after reading about so many great films (Tarkovsky's and others), too many to fork over the money and import (until recently, no such DVD releases locally), I finally discovered a video library with all the film's I'd been reading about - on DVD!
And I went straight for Tarkovsky. I only found one at that time, which was the incredible Offret (The Sacrifice), Wow! What an experience. Bergman's films had always had the biggest effect on me (ahead of Dreyer and Bresson), but this film equalled any of his - as far as mesmerising me and provoking life questioning thoughts goes. I felt intoxicated - and it left a resonating hangover.
A little down the track (last weekend), I saw Solyaris, and am now beginning to understand the religious like appeal of this incredible artist. You mean his work gets better than Offret? And from what I've read, it (arguably) gets even better than Solaris?

Having only seen two, I'm only scraping the surface I know, but I'm sold, and can't wait to see Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Rublev, The Mirror, Stalker and Nostalghia.
My wallet is developing stretch marks Posted Image but it's all worth it...
My only regret is not discovering his work in chronological order - something I usually like doing.

I understand his work is not for everyone - nor are most of the great films from world cinema history. And Australia is not exactly the most culturally-drenched country when it comes to cinema, but it's a damn shame I - and every person around me - had never been exposed to such art.
Oh, Ridley Scott is famous, as is Kevin Smith and of course Michael Bay. The latest Cameron Diaz film is talked about across the country, but who the heck's this Takofsk...Tarkskvy...or what ever his name is...
I understand mass appeal and everything, but no mention at all is a worry.

Anyway, enough ranting, I want to know your thoughts on his body of work.
Which is your favourite? (and why?)
Did he make a film that you do not consider a masterpiece?
What's the rest of his work (those I didn't mention) like?
Which should I see next?

#18 of 28 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted July 20 2004 - 01:58 AM

Paul, I seem to remember a discussion of The Mirror in the Sight and Sound thread.

Tarkovsky is definitely an acquired taste, one I doubt I ever will (Andrei Rublev was _ex_cru_tia_ting_), even as Solaris just arrived from netflix.

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#19 of 28 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted July 21 2004 - 03:24 AM

Nice post John.

Paul, I am pretty sure that there is a discussion on The Mirror in the Sight and Sound Top 100 Club thread.

You might check that out for some views of the movie and ask some questions in that thread.
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#20 of 28 OFFLINE   Brook K

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Posted July 21 2004 - 05:32 AM

There are also reviews of several of his other films throughout the thread, though I'm afraid that aside from my review of The Sacrifice that you'll find most of them to be negative.
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