The young Andrei Tarkovsky was allegedly contacted at a seance by the spirit of Boris Pasternak, who told him he’d make seven films. “Only seven?” asked Tarkovsky. “But seven good ones,” answered the ghost.
This story is told in Chris Marker’s one-hour documentary or love letter on Tarkovsky, made as an episode of the long-running French series Cinéma de Notre Temps. Through narrator Alexandra Stewart, Marker analyzes Tarkovsky’s films for common themes and images. For example, the first scene of the first film (My Name Is Ivan) and the last scene of the last film (The Sacrifice) are both about a boy and a tree. There’s much behind-the-scenes footage from the making of that final film, including Tarkovsky on his death bed watching the rough cut with his editor. If you’re at all familiar with his output, this warmly illuminating hour will make you appreciate the films anew and send you back to them with fresh eyes. It’s perfect as an introduction or an epilogue.
Two Russian-related films are also on the disc. Sergei Dvorsetvoy’s In the Dark gazes at an old blind man in a cramped apartment. He spends his time making string bags to give away free in the street to the indifferent public. His companion, a fluffy white cat, makes life harder by undoing his strings, but he wouldn’t do without her. They’re like Beckett characters who happen to populate an intimate, patient documentary prepared to wander along any tangent that happens in front of the camera.
Marina Goldovskaya’s Three Songs About Motherland is a trilogy set in three cities. Komsomol represents the past, as aged pensioners who recall the Stalin era, when they were young and strong and their future seemed bright, give differing opinions about Stalin and his legacy based on how much of the terror they experienced personally. The middle section, about assassinated Moscow journalist Anna Politkovskaya, is a sad collage of her home movies and interviews that comments bleakly on the “new Russia”. Then, surprisingly, we end on hope in Siberia, of all places, where the interviewees tell of a robust, revitalized era of new capitalism and employment. A subtext is that since Siberia was essentially populated by “criminals” who were “deported” there, those who survived are prepared to take advantage of a post-Soviet world in a way that Muscovites or those who live in the past cannot.