An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn`t exist, for the artist doesn`t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn`t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.
Every now and then, I’m going to take a break from my random film watching and review the film career of Andrei Tarkovsky. This is one of those posts. Tarkovsky was once called the greatest director who ever lived by Ingmar Bergman. That’s is and will always be a high honor. I am and will continue to review and give thoughts about his work.
Ivan’s Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)
I thought I would start out with his first since all his films were released online. This film was equally exhilarating, beautiful, and haunting. The performances Nickolay Burlyaev gives as the titular character is among the best child performances of all time. His naturalism draws you in and his big scenes floor you without ever going overboard with sentiment. Whenever the kid is onscreen, Ivan’s Childhood sores. However, he’s not onscreen all the time. The film includes a kind of hackneyed subplot involving a love triangle among two soldiers and a nurse named Masha. It’s a bit lame in the way that it adds essentially nothing to Ivan’s character, but offers a nice break from his heart wrenching story. Ultimately, though, I’d much rather have Ivan’s character than Masha’s character. The conclusion of the subplot doesn’t add much layer to the film in it’s entirety, other than just showing us the other soldiers in the Army. But no matter what, the direction and cinematography are always appropriately moody, concise, and imaginative. I can’t wait until I have enough time to see Tarkovsky’s next, Andrei Rublev. B+
Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
I loved this. My initial thoughts – This is a total 180 from Ivan’s Childhood – plot wise. For starters, it’s balanced. There’s practically no fat whatsoever to be found on this film, where as Childhood had a entire subplot that didn’t tie back into the film’s main character at all. The story in Andrei Rublev is incredibly complex and expansive. It’s story follows the titular painter, yet it evolves, quite unexpectedly, into a tale of Medieval Russia. The first part of the film largely deals with the life before the overthrow the Tatars. The second part deals with the death of the land and the (somewhat) rebirth of itself. The direction of Rublev is captivating in the way that it feels completely nonexistent. I’m finding some difficulty even typing out my initial thoughts! What was that?! I have seen a limited amount of film directors, so the only one that I could compare Tarkovsky to would probably be Malick. They both have this terrific talent of capturing the beauty and ugliness of nature and they do it without self consciousness or over exaggeration. They are truly two of a kind. Another thing – there’s a lot of animal cruelty in this film? My idea of the intention was to paint the Tatars as villains because whenever they were on screen a animal would get killed or fight. It goes deeper than that, though, of course – if we humans have some sort of transcendental thoughts and if we kill a animal over a principle, than we have become lesser than animals, we have become truly evil. To be honest, I was not comfortable with the torture and death of animals on screen. I hope it’s fake, but I’m not sure. There was such harsh brutality in the second act, that, even though the entirety of the raid was shorter, it nearly outweighs the peace of the first part. Yet the film transforms, towards the end, to a story about the building of a bell. I felt this part sort of wraps up all the feelings of the film pretty well. Community, personal sacrifice, and fear of authority all find their way in. Which reminds of the very beginning – the flight of the man in the balloon. I still have absolutely no idea what that had to do with or how it ties into the story. Perhaps I didn’t pay attention? I need to watch the film again. It’s probably the most dense film I’ve ever seen. I did enjoy the break into the past with the crucifixion of Christ. I have never seen a more accurate or beautiful way of showing that. I don’t think I will ever stop thinking about this film. A+
Bonus Thoughts on Ivan’s Childhood (There may be spoilers)
There are three scenes I love in that film.
1. The sequence that opens the film that ends with that delicious zoom in/slant angle with the horrifying music. Tarkovsky sets up the scene as a lovely childhood dream with mother and son, but at the end he throws this violent short twist that transforms this “dream” into a nightmare. It’s pretty chilling.
2. Ivan’s enactment of what he would do if he came across a Nazi general is absolutely heartbreaking. There is no fancy fantasies, it’s all done by a child’s view and the scene suggests a certain sadness to his character that isn’t fully explored earlier in the film. His family was murdered by the Nazis and this is why he’s so determined to fight them. Burlyaev totally sells it. Best performance by a child actor ever? I think so.
3. Power of suggestion. If one thing of Tarkovsky’s first film hints at his later realized genius, it’s the ending where one of the soldiers travels to the torture chambers used by the Nazis after the war has ended. With the knowledge that Ivan was never found, the images accompanied with sounds of children and adults screaming is one of the most powerful scenes put on film I’ve ever seen. The ending with Ivan running on the beach is a beautiful parallel to the beginning of the film. Ivan is in heaven and is enjoying his childhood once again.
Bonus Thoughts on Andrei Rublev (There may be spoilers)
You know, there’s all of this thought and symbolism in the film… but I didn’t catch any of it because, as many film critics have put it before, it’s just so damned mesmerizing to think about during or even after the film. But this word used struck me: searching. For what? For God in a God less world? I’m not saying God is not existent, but that human beings have killed the idea and the feeling of God or even transcendence.
It’s almost as if the audience is a protagonist along with Rublev. It’s slow moving nature gives us, the audience, to explore the world and make our own observations. It’s very non manipulative and a bit ambiguous, I can see why Tarkovsky’s films can often be debated over. The film is about a painter and yet the film is like a painting: you really get lost in the expansive world that Tarkovsky creates. The close ups of the painting(s?) at the end was very powerful. All of his life amounted to his art. What more could be said?
Thanks for reading! I hope to view Tarkovsky’s Solaris and The Mirror in the next month.