Who is he?
Widely respected Soviet filmmaker who made seven fictional features and a documentary between the Sixties and the Eighties. His first feature Ivan’s Childhood won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1962. After making five features in the USSR, Tarkovsky was forced into exile and this departure from his motherland deeply influenced his final two films, which he made in Western Europe.
What are his films about?
Tarkovsky’s films are among the least political films from the USSR and instead deal with metaphysical and existential ideas. They engage with Man’s predicament in this world, his inability to be one with nature and its peace and his crisis of Faith, which usually takes the form of Orthodox Christianity. Religious iconography abounds in these works and elements of nature assume a supernatural presence. They are also very personal films structured around Tarkovsky’s own memories and experience.
Tarkovsky’s cinema starkly departs from the Soviet Constructivist movement of the previous era. Unlike the latter, his films do not rely heavily on montage for creating meaning. Instead of trying to create an external meaning through the juxtaposition of individually insignificant images, they treat shots as autonomous entities, full of life. The duration and rhythm of a scene is absorbed as it is. As a result, his films employ very long shots, barely perceptible zooms, gradually panning and tracking movements and have an integrity of space and time.
Why is he of interest?
Tarkovsky was one of the pioneers of using time as a structural element in his work. Many of the aesthetic predilections of contemporary contemplative cinema have their roots in his filmography. More importantly, he was a director who made films that rejected state-championed Socialist Realism, which relied on didacticism and clarity of purpose, and instead made deeply personal films steeped in ambiguity and spiritual doubt.
Where to discover him?
Adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel, Solaris (1972) tells the tale of a psychologist who travels to a space station to investigate a series of strange happenings. While most films of this genre look to the cosmos for a greater meaning, Solaris reaches out in the opposite direction, to man’s inner state. In a tragicomic sort of way, the film hints that, no matter how thoroughly we demystify the universe, our own existence would remain an inscrutable mystery.