FILMS ADMIRED BY TARKOVSKY
Thanks to all who’ve made this such a popular list, in spite of glitches causing dozens of fans to suddenly disappear.
This list is composed of films picked in a top 10 by Tarkovsky in 1972 (#1-10 here) and others mentioned with admiration by him, in his book Sculpting in Time and elsewhere. I’m not aware which of the other Mizoguchi, Bunuel, Chaplin and Dreyer films he specifically admired, but he rated those directors highly (Mizoguchi is praised as a soaring soul and genius), as he did Renoir, Rossellini and apparently Boris Barnet. Of course he saw film as a great serious art, and has often been compared with Bergman, a mutual admirer. In the recent large book Tarkovsky (ed Nathan Dunne) the influence of the less famous Leo Arnshtam on Tarkovsky is explored, e.g his film Zoia on Mirror.
“The Khrushchev Thaw opened Soviet society and allowed, to some degree, Western literature, films and music. This allowed Tarkovsky to see films of the Italian neorealists, French New Wave, and of directors such as Kurosawa, Buñuel, Bergman, Bresson, Andrzej Wajda (whose film Ashes and Diamonds was a true experience for him) and Mizoguchi. Tarkovsky absorbed the idea of the auteur as a necessary condition for creativity
Tarkovsky was, according to Shavkat Abdusalmov, a fellow student at film school, fascinated by Japanese films. He was amazed by how every character on the screen is exceptional and how everyday events such as a Samurai cutting bread with his sword are elevated to something special and put into the limelight. Tarkovsky has also expressed interest in the art of Haiku and its ability to create “images in such a way that they mean nothing beyond themselves”. (wikipedia).
The son of a celebrated poet quoted in his films, Andrei Tarkovsky was born in 1932, in the Volga countryside not far from Moscow. He studied film under the influential Mikhail Romm. 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 placed in the top 100 of both ‘Sight and Sound’ and ‘MovieMail’.
Tarkovsky’s feature-length debut, Venice Golden Lion winner Ivan’s Childhood (1962) is an accessible, welcoming introduction to the lustrous, ethereal landscapes and major themes (dreams and memories, freedom, childlike faith, home and absence from it) 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 more lyrical companion to Elem Klimov’s harrowing 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. Notably, and typically for Tarkovsky, it looks back towards earth and home. For Mark le Fanu, author of a fine book on the director, it is a “majestic and achieved work of art”, though the director himself was less satisfied.
At the centre of his oeuvre, the fathomless, almost cubist, personal and panoramic 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- a writer, a scientist and their guide- 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, 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.
“The only condition of fighting for the right to create is faith in your own vocation, readiness to serve, and refusal to compromise.”
“Juxtaposing a person with an environment that is boundless, collating him with a countless number of people passing by close to him and far away, relating a person to the whole world, that is the meaning of cinema.”
“We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it’s a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it. "
“Always with huge gratitude and pleasure I remember the films of Sergei Parajanov which I love very much. His way of thinking, his paradoxical, poetical . . . ability to love the beauty and the ability to be absolutely free within his own vision.”
“Art could be said to be a symbol of the universe, being linked with that absolute spiritual truth which is hidden from us in our positivistic, pragmatic activities.”
“For the first time in the history of the arts, in the history of culture, man found the means to take an impression of time…That is the sense in which the Lumiere brothers were the first to contain the seed of a new aesthetic principle. But immediately afterwards, cinema turned aside from art, forced down the path that was the safest from the point of view of phillistine interest and profit”.
“The idea of “montage cinema”- that editing brings together two concepts and thus engenders a new, third one- again seems to me to be incompatible with the nature of cinema".
“I reject the principles of “montage cinema” because they do not allow the film to continue beyond the edges of the screen: they do not allow the audience to bring personal experience to bear on what is in front of them on screen"
“Only the most superficial, insensitive and formalistic critic could be so bogged down in documentary detail as to miss the poetic vision which distinguishes Iosseliani’s films.”
“We have almost totally lost sight of the beautiful as a criterion of art: in other words, of the aspiration to express the ideal.”
“Devoid of spirituality, art carries its own tragedy within it…..The true artist always serves immortality, striving to immortalise the world and the man within the world”.
“Nothing could be more meaningless than the word “search” applied to a work of art. It covers incompetence, inner emptiness, lack of true creative consciousness, petty vainglory..Art is not science, one can’t start experimenting".
“The idea and aim of a picture have to be clear to the director from the outset”.
“It is fallacy to suppose that method can become the meaning and aim of art. Nonetheless, most modern artists spend their time self-indulgently demonstrating method”
“The whole concept of avant-garde in art is meaningless”
“Art must transcend as well as observe”.
“A work becomes dated as a result of the conscious effort to be expressive and contemporary”.
“I think that one of the saddest aspects of our time is the total destruction of people’s awareness of all that goes with a conscious sense of the beautiful. Modern mass culture, aimed at the “consumer”, the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people’s souls, setting up barriers between man and the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being."
“He is Chaplin, pure and simple: a unique phenomenon, never to be repeated. He is unadulterated hyperbole; but above all he stuns us at every moment of hsi screen existence with the truth of his hero’s behaviour…He doesn’t play. He lives those idiotic situations, is an organic part of them”
“Bergman is a master with sound. It’s impossible to forget what he does with the lighthouse in Through a Glass Darkly; a sound on the very brink of audibility.
Bresson is brilliant in his use of sound, so is Antonioni in his trilogy….But all the same, i have a feeling there must be other ways of working with sound, ways which would allow one to be more accurate, more true to the inner world which we try to reproduce on screen; not just the author’s inner world, but what lies within the world itself, what is essential to it and does not depend on us”
“There are few people of genius in the cinema; look at Bresson, Mizoguchi, Dovzhenko, Paradzhanov, Bunuel: not one of them could be confused with anyone else. An artist of that calibre follows one straight line, albeit at great cost…always in the name of the one idea, the one conception.”
“The aim of art is to prepare a person for death”.
ARSENY TARKOVSKY: I dreamed this dream and I still dream of it
I dreamed this dream and I still dream of it
and I will dream of it sometime again.
Everything repeats itself and everything will be reincarnated,
and my dreams will be your dreams.
There, to one side of us, to one side of the world
wave after wave breaks on the shore:
there’s a star on the wave, and a man, and a bird,
reality and dreams and death – wave after wave.
Dates are irrelevant. I was, I am, I will be.
Life is a miracle of miracles, and I kneel
before the miracle alone like an orphan,
alone in the mirrors, enclosed in reflections,
seas and towns, shining brightly through the smoke.
A mother cries and takes her baby on her knee.
Any other proposed films welcome. Thanks to all who are fans of this list, which is one of a pair, with Tarkovsky’s Legacy.
16Carl Theodor Dreyer
27Carl Theodor Dreyer