The 100 Essential Directors Part 9

Victor Sjöström to Luchino Visconti

by PopMatters Staff

28 August 2011


Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky
(1932 - 1986)

Three Key Films: Andrei Rublev (1966), Stalker (1979), The Sacrifice (1986)

Underrated: Ivan’s Childhood (1962): Tarkovsky’s debut feature is a little more straightforward than his later, stranger, and ultimately more memorable movies, but since this is Tarkovsky, such a statement does not exclude Ivan’s Childhood from consideration as a masterpiece. The story of a young boy reminiscing about simpler times while struggling to carve out his personal place in war-torn Russia, Ivan’s Childhood is a gut-wrenching journey and an unflinching examination of youth harrowingly accelerated.

Unforgettable: After opening Stalker with a series of strange, haunting scenes presented in muddy sepia tones, Tarkovsky suddenly introduces a stunning shift in the color palette when we first enter the Zone, the fascinatingly mysterious location where the majority of the movie takes place. The bold, beautiful blossoming of colour signals the beginning of a bizarre journey that will soon solidify its position as one of the great landmarks in science fiction cinema.

The Legend: “We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically.” These words from incomparable Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky hint eloquently at a fascinating collection of movies that generate profound sensations and emotions through a calculated commitment to imaginative imagery. There is nothing quite like the experience of watching Tarkovsky combine exquisitely executed shots with a deeply resonating tone that slowly traverses the space between melancholy and euphoria.

The son of a poet father and an editor/actress mother, Andrei Tarkovsky carried his early influences throughout his entire career. Born in 1932 in a town located approximately 500 miles north of Moscow, he spent his entire life under Soviet rule. A challenging place for a unique artist, Tarkovsky nonetheless pursued his passion for storytelling with significant success and has gone on to be considered one of the greatest Russian filmmakers of all time. His deeply determined approach and meaningfully methodical style are undeniably inimitable and influential.

Tarkovsky’s interest in time is prevalent throughout his movies. It’s a theme that he constantly explores both as metaphor and as a tool through which he can unravel the story at a very deliberate pace. The famous bell-making sequence in religious epic Andrei Rublev stretches on for more than thirty minutes and it feels long and arduous, but this actually puts us at ground level with the struggling characters and provides us with a  taste of their pain and suffering on the way to creating something incredible. It’s the kind of sequence many filmmakers may have opted to present with a time-condensing montage, but not Tarkovsky. There is a bold bravery in his attention to detail that is truly stunning.

In total, Tarkovsky directed 11 movies, which includes a few shorts, but his life was cut short at age 54, so the mystery of what may have followed looms over his filmography. Tarkovsky’s death is attributed by some to the hazardous Stalker shoot, which was located downstream from a chemical plant that was dumping toxic materials into the water. Contact with the stream was later blamed for the deaths of multiple cast and crew members, including Tarkovsky, who died more than eight years after that filming experience. If the Stalker shoot is indeed the cause of Tarkovsky’s passing, then it’s possible to say that he died for his art. But that seems like too clichéd a conclusion for a filmmaker who rejected the obvious and instead sought originality through personal expression in the name of metaphorical poetry. Aaron Leggo


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