With my recent Andrei Tarkovsky marathon (which is set to conclude the moment I watch and review his final film, The Sacrifice), I thought I might as well make this week’s Profile post about him. In case you didn’t know or remember, Profile is a weekly series where I dissect the career of one famous filmmaker. Today, it’s Tarkovsky. Let’s begin.
Andrei Tarkovsky was born on April 4, 1932, the son of the famous poet Arseniy Tarkovsky, in what was then Soviet Union Russia. Despite suffering during the second World War, he decided afterwards to study film rather than poetry or music, topics he had previously showed interest in. In 1954, he was accepted into film school, during a time in which young filmmakers were flourishing. However, it would be almost a decade before Tarkovsky would make his own film. In the meantime he studied and learned from the works of many vital filmmakers, including Ingmar Bergman (whom he would later work with for his last film) and Andrzej Wajda. He earned a diploma in 1960 for his student film The Steamroller and the Violin.
Following this, he achieved success at the Venice Film Festival, where he won top prize for his debut feature Ivan’s Childhood. Many eagerly awaited his next film, but with Andrei Rublev Tarkovsky ran into trouble with the Soviet authorities. It was not officially released there until 1971, but was completed in 1966 and shown at the 1969 Cannes film festival. His next film Solaris, released in 1972 and seen as a response to Kubrick’s 2001 (though Tarkovsky denies this), was infinitely more popular, and remains one of Tarkovsky’s most widely seen and admired films. It also won prizes at Cannes. Soon enough Tarkovsky was working on his next film, The Mirror, which was based on his experiences as a child in World War II. The Russian authorities did not approve of it, and its attitude toward war and politics at the time. It got limited distribution and remains largely unseen, despite easy DVD availability now.
His next movie Stalker was the last one he shot in the Soviet Union, and it marked the cementing of a new shooting style for Tarkovsky. It was the first of his last three films for which he would use long takes and slow pacing. He had toyed with these themes and styles in Solaris and Mirror, but it was with Stalker that they became prevalent and almost overwhelmed the viewer. Shooting in long takes with few cuts, Stalker is seen as the sister film to Solaris, in that they are both slow-paced science fiction films that are more meditative on imagery than reliant on plot. However, after Tarkovsky shot Stalker, a freak accident destroyed many of the prints and the entire film had to be re-shot! Although work on it initially began in 1976, due to the reshoots and Tarkovsky having a heart attack, the movie was not completed until 1979. The production is reminiscent of that of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which was being shot at the same time and also had a production mired with difficulty.
After this Tarkovsky took a break and travelled to Italy, where he worked on the script for his next film Nostalghia, which he planned to shoot there. In 1982 when he left to begin shooting, he never returned to his home country. The film was shot in a year and premiered in 1983. Its artistic and thought-provoking imagery as well as its slow-paced metitation on thoughts and the human mindset and spiritual attitudes have caused it to become an arthouse hit worldwide; it is also one of Tarkovsky’s best; certainly the best of his later period. After moving to Sweden and beginning and completing work on his next film The Sacrifice in 1984 and 1985, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 1986. He still wrote regularly in his diary, which he had kept for many years and was published posthumously. The Sacrifice won prizes at Cannes, but by then Tarkovsky was too ill to attend. He passed away on December 29, 1986. He has since been hailed by many, including his friend and associate Ingmar Bergman, as one of the most important filmmakers of all time.
What about you? What Tarkovsky have you seen? What do you think of him? Leave a comment below.