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|Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986)|
Russian film and theater director, screenwriter, a poetic visionary, whose most famous films include Andrei Rublev (1966), a dark vision about the relationship between art and society, Solaris (1972), probing the limits of human understanding, and Sacrifice (1986), a contemplation about spiritual rebirth and the end of the world. "There is only one way of thinking in cinema: poetically," Tarkovsky once wrote. Although Tarkovsky did not openly deal with the failures of the Soviet system - his themes were more universal and spiritual – the authorities viewed his films with suspicion, and often restricted their distribution. Tarkovsky died in exile in Paris at the age of 54. In his home country Tarkovsky was frequently accused of having cut himself "off from the reality."
"In all my films it seemed to me important to try to establish the links which connect people (other than those of the flesh), those links which connect me with humanity, and all of us with everything that surrounds us. I need to have a sense that I myself am in this world as a successor, that there is nothing accidental about my being there." (Tarkovsky in Sculpting in Time, 1984)
Andrei Tarkovsky was born in Zavrzhye, Yurievets region, the son of Arseni Tarkovsky, a poet and critic, and Maria Ivanovna, an actress. Later he used his father's poems in several of his films. After his parents divorced, Andrei and his sister Marina were raised by their mother. Tarkovsky's experiences during the Great Patriotic War against Germany, evacuation from Moscow to the countryside, and the separation of his parents, formed the background of the film Mirror (1974). From 1951 to 1954 Tarkovsky studied Arabic at Moscow's Institute of Oriental Languages, but couldn't complete the course due to illness. Before entering the Soviet State Film School (VGIK) in 1956, he studied geology in Siberia. At VGIK his teacher was Mikhail Romm (1901-1971), who was awarded five Stalin Prizes during his career. Later Tarkovsky said that the students did not see enough achievements of world cinema, because teachers were afraid of Western influences. In 1959 Tarkovsky made a short television film There Will Be No Leave Today and won a prize with his diploma work, Steamroller and the Violin (1960). Its screenplay Tarkovsky wrote with H Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky; they collaborated also in Andrei Rublev.
His first feature film, Ivan's Childhood (1962), Tarkovsky based on Vladimir Bogolomov's austere war tale published in 1958. The dreamlike construction of the fate of an orphan boy behind enemy lines won the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival. A feeling of loneliness hangs over the whole picture, which Tarkovsky considered his own private qualifying examination, does he really have the ability to be a director. Irma Rausch, whom Tarkovsky had married in 1957, played Ivan's mother. Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky's next film, won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes in 1970. The thinly veiled comment on the situation of Soviet artists was given a limited release in the USSR in 1971, and was cut for distribution abroad.
The episodic story is built around the life of the famous 15th-century Russian icon painter and monk, Andrei Rublev, played by Tarkovsky's favorite actor Anatoly Solonitsyn. He witnesses the cruelty and misery of the world, slaughter and plunder, but eventually finds his faith in art and creates his acclaimed religious paintings. A parallel story follows a young man, Boriska, who courageously completes the task of creating a new bell, without having any previous experience of such work. The film, shot in black and white, bursts into color in the last ten to fifteen minutes. Tarkovsky opens the film showing the flight and crash of a hot-air balloon made of skins, ropes and rags. Originally the script included an episode, in which a peasant attempts to fly with hand-made wings.
In the 1960s Tarkovsky also wrote screenplays and acted in Marlen Hutsiev's Mne dvatsat let (1964) and Alexander V. Gordon's Sergei Lazo (1967). After Andrei Rublev Tarkovsky fell into official disfavour for a time. It took six years before he made his third film, Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (b.1921). It continued the metaphysical themes of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The Soviet authorities claimed that the work was too difficult for the average Russian audience to understand – Western critics did not find it any less so. Most of the events are set on a spaceship hovering over the organic and sentient ocean of planet Solaris. Scientists, sweating like Romans in historical spectacles, try to reveal its secret but they only meet apparitions of their own imagination and secret desires. Whereas Kubrick ends his film in a symbolical rebirth of humankind, Tarkovsky seems to say that there is no escape from human nature. Solaris won the Jury Prize at Cannes, but the film had a limited distribution at home.
The Mirror was an autobiographical work, in which Tarkovky used the logic of dreams and poems. Rhythmically slow meditation on moments of existence, The Mirror consisted of about two hundred shots. The cinematic technique bore similarities to that of the Russian avant-garde directors of the 1920s and experimental Western films. Tarkovsky's wife Larissa Pavlovna Yegorkina served as the assistant director; she worked with him in the three following projects. They had moved together while Tarkovsky was making Andrei Rublev. Vadim Yusov, who had cooperated with the director from the beginning, refused to shoot the film – he found its tone too private. Also Tarkovsky's troubles with authorities continued. The chief of the State Cinema wanted to take out the newsreel piece of the Soviet Army crossing Lake Sivash in 1943. It had been filmed by an army cameraman who had been killed on that same day. After The Mirror Tarkovsky considered giving up the whole business. At a meeting of the State Institute of Cinematography and the Union of Cinematographists, his colleagues condemned his work as 'elitist'. An engineer from Sverdlovsk wrote in a letter to Tarkovsky: "One can only be astonished that those responsible for the distribution of films here in the USSR should allow such blunders."
In 1977 Tarkovsky directed Shakespeare's Hamlet for the Komsomol theater. Stalker (1979) was again based on a science fiction story, Roadside Picnic, written by Arkady and Boris Strugatski. The slowly moving, enigmatic story is set in a desolate, unnamed country, where the Stalker, dressed in the dirty rags of a gulag inmate, has lost his hope and faith in humanity. He guides two men, the Writer and the Scientist, to the mysterious Zone, a kind of alien Disneyland. Their destination is the Room, where everybody's most secret wish will be granted. When they reach the place, nobody has the courage to step across its threshold. Back at home Stalker goes to sleep while his legless daughter shows her telekinetic powers. Tarkovsky asks the question: have we courage to face our inner self, the truth? Like the sentient ocean of Solaris, the Room mercilessly reveals what are our real wishes, not what we say they are. Much of the film was shot in Jägala, Estonia. It has been argued that exposure to the toxic runoff from a chemical plant on the river Jägala may have contributed to the cancer that killed Tarkovsky.
Stalker was the last feature film Tarkovsky directed in his home country. The doom-laden Nostalgia (1983) was made in Italy. It presented a number of Tarkovsky's favorite images from his cinematographic vocabulary, which include dripping water, fire, mud, wind, windows and doors, ruins and scenes of erosion, slow and prolonged camera shots, all filled with stilfling sense of longing. In the story a Russian poet, Andrei Gorchakov, and his translator, Eugenia, collect material about a long-dead Russian composer. They meet a recluse, Domenico, prophesying the end of the world. "What kind of world is this," he cries, "if a madman has to tell you to be ashamed of yourselves?" Domenico commits suicide by setting himself on fire. Andrei walks across St Catherine's thermal pool and dies of a heart attack. At the end Tarkovsky brings a Russian house inside an Italian cathedral.
Tarkovsky wrote the screenplay with the poet Tonino Guerra, who had collaborated earlier with Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. When the film was shown at Cannes, the leader of the Soviet representatives, the director Sergei Bondarchuk, prevented it winning the Palme d'or. Nostalgia received the less prestigious Special Jury Prize. Tarkovsky had already decided to go into exile after finishing the production, but the authorities were reluctant to give both him and Larissa visas for abroad. Like Andrei in Nostalgia, Tarkovsky longed to go back to Russia. "I am so homesick, so homesick," he wrote in his diary. However, in Moscow he found cockroaches in his home, and accused his stepdaughter Olga of being lazy and slovenly. In London he directed a stage production of Boris Godunov at Covent Garden.
Tarkovsky's spiritual testament as a director, The Sacrifice (1986), was shot on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Primarily a Swedish production, the members of the crew included Sven Nykvist and Erland Josephson, both famous for their collaboration with Ingmar Bergman. Later Erland Josephson returned to Tarkovky in his sarcastic play, En natt i den svenska sommaren (2002), about cultural conflicts between a Swedish film team and a Russian foreign director. Sacrifice received at Cannes the Grand Special Jury Prize, the International Critics Prize, and the Ecumenical Prize. The idea was sketched while Tarkovky was still living in the Soviet Union. In the story a birthday dinner of Alexander, an artist, is interrupted by some kind of nuclear Big Bang. Eventually Alexander, weary of the discord in his family, must prove his faith in mankind to save the world. "... he is not master of his fate but its servant; and it may well be that through individual exertions such as his, which nobody notices or understands, world harmony is preserved." (Tarkovsky in Sculpting the Time) Also in this work healing occurs through a spiritual crisis.
During the last years of his life, Tarkovsky suffered from cancer. He died in Paris on December 29, 1986, and was buried in a graveyard for Russian émigrés in the town of Saint-Geneviève-du-Bois, France. Tarkovsky's unfulfilled projects included Ibsen's Peer Gynt, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Flaubert's The Temptations of Saint Anthony, and a film about the life of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Occupied with the question of life after death and his own dreams, Tarkovsky found Thomas Mann, Herman Hesse, and Dostoevsky generally more interesting than his contemporary writers. Among the exceptions was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – in 1970 he had planned to film the author's short story Matryona's Home (1963).
Before his death Tarkovsky published Sapetshatljonnoje vremja (1984, Sculpting in Time), an account of the original inspiration for his films and his method of work. Martyrolog (1989), Tarkovsky's diary from 1970 to 1981, revealed that he was not much interested in the Social realism, international politics, or the radical thoughts of the new left. "I have a feeling that Mankind has stopped to have faith in itself;" he once said. "For me man is above all a spiritual being, and life's purpose is in the development of this. If man is unable to do this, the society degenerates." (from Tarkovskij, tanken på en hemkomst, ed. by Magnus Berg & Bergit Munkhammar, 1986)
For further reading: Tarkovsky by Achille Frezzato (1977); Ajapeegel by Tatjana Elmanovitsh (1980); Andrej Tarkowskij - Film als Poesie, Poesie als Film by Maja Josifowna Turowskaja & Felicitas Allardt-Nostitz (1981); Andrei Tarkovsky, ed. by Michel Estève (1983); Tarkovskij, tanken på en hemkomst by Magnus Berg & Bergit Munkhammar (1986); Le monde d'Andrei Tarkovski by Balint Andras Kovács & Akos Szilagyi (1987); The Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky by Mark le Fanu (1987); Andrej Tarkowsky by Jacobsen-Kreimeier, Schlegel-Schmid, Sokurov (1987); Andrei Tarkovski by Guy Gauthier (1988); Tarkovsky: Cinema as Poetry by Maya Turovshaya (1989); The Films of Andreij Tarkovsky, ed. by Daniel J. Goulding (1994); Five Filmmakers: Tarkovsky Forman Polanski Szabo Makavejev, ed. by Daniel J. Goulding (1994); Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue by Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie (1994); 'The Poetics of Image - Andrei Tarkovsky: Nostalghia' in The Architecture of Image by Juhani Pallasmaa (2001); Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews, edited by John Gianvito (2006); Zona by Geoff Dyer (2012); The Cinema of Tarkovsky by Nariman Skakov (2012) - See also: Behind the Scenes of 'The Sacrifice' (1987, Channel Four, England); Regi Andrei Tarkovski by Michal Leszczylowski (1988); Moskovskaja Elegia, dir. by Aleksandr Sokurov (1988) - Arseni Aleksandrovich Tarkovsky: born in 1907 in Yelizavetgrad (later Kirovgrad). He worked for the newspaper Gudok and then entered the State School for Advanced Literary Studies, graduating in 1929. However, his first collection of poems, Pered snegom, was not published until 1962. It gained him fame as one of the best lyric poets in the country. Later appeared Zemle zemnoye (1966), Vestnik (1969), Stixotvorenija (1974), Zimmi den (1980), and Izbrannoje (1982). Tarkovsky also translated literature from Oriental languages and published a number of reviews and critical articles. He died in 1989. Tarkovsky admired Pasternak and classical Russian poetry. His expression was laconic, restrained, but suggestive. "I'm a candle burnt out at the feast. / Gather my wax up at dawn, / And this page will tell you the secret / Of how to weep and where to be proud, / How to distribute to final third / Of delight, and make an easy death, / Then, sheltered by some chance roof, / To blaze, word-like, with posthumous light."
Selected films and books: