ANDREI TARKOVSKI: THE ERRANT POET
“Andrei Tarkovski never died because his work lives. And those whose abilities live beyond death, are the cinematic Art’s chosen few.”
By Miguel Angel Barroso
Image (ablove), Andrei Arsénievich Tarkovski
There is no doubt at this point in the history of cinema; Of the Art of Cinema, of course, that Andrei Arsénievich Tarkovski is one of his greatest sons, one of those filmmakers endowed with the grace of talent, that gift which many artists endowed with it, waste for industrial reasons and very few are able to carry to its ultimate consequences.
It is very difficult to speak of a filmmaker like Tarkovski in a way, let’s say, “conventional” to make an article, since his personality completely merged with his work of cinema, does not admit clichés, nor banal analyzes about a certain technique, certain Camera movements, some narrative, or some photography treatment. But at the same time, it is very easy to enter into conversation with him, through an article, when he is known to tell him, to confess him, to deliver him.
Delivery, that is the magic word that defended Tarkovski all his life: delivery and consequence, since it is not possible according to him, that an artist live his life in one way and then make another film. That is an insurmountable contradiction for an artist, it is a denial of art itself.
Born in the extinct USSR on April 4, 1932, he lives in his youth the convulsive situation of the “cold war” between the communist and capitalist bloc. Soon the young idealist, the son of a renowned poet and poet also with aspirations as a writer, collides with the stalinist dictatorship imposed from the end of World War II, which does not allow its citizens to doubt the ideology that power has installed Brutally to carry out the savage industrialization of the Soviet empire. And the greatest danger, no doubt, was on the side of the artists, since they could easily represent the people’s conscience, their ideals, their doubts about life and, of course, politics.
After spending a year in Siberia, enrolled in an expedition to look for gold and iron, and suffer the inclemency of the weather and the harshness of the wild life through men and women who lived with resignation a life of sacrifices, decides to abandon their studies And become a film director. And this decision is immovable: he had found his true vocation to express himself.
After making two short films, he graduated with the medium-length Katok i skripka (Violin and roller) in 1961.
There is an anecdote that tells that shortly to enter the film school, one night with several of his companions, decided to organize a session of spiritualism and invoke the poet and writer Boris Pasternak, whom the young Andrei admired with emotion. One of the questions asked by the young filmmaker was: – How many films will I film? And the writer replied, “Seven. “Only seven?” Tarkovsky retorted. “Yes, but all will be good. In 1986, in a hospital in Paris, at the age of 54, he died in exile, repudiated by his country, Andrei Tarkovski, leaving almost finished on the death bed which would be his seventh film.
His first film, Ivanovo Detstvo (Ivan’s childhood, 1962), comes almost as a commission, since they have dismissed the director and decide to shoot the film again, albeit with a half budget. Director of photography: Vadim Yussof Tarkovsky’s films) asked him to take over the new direction, and Tarkovsky accepted the challenge and obtained an intimate war film, far removed from the patriotic taste and military exaltation with which the project was conceived. Foreigner, who received the Golden Lion of Venice, which was awarded to a Russian filmmaker for the first time, but the Russian authorities were suspicious of the film and called it: A song of individualism and bourgeois reverie. Of the new director was cast and would follow his fate inexorably.
Thus, four years later and after being denied the money for two very personal projects, he manages to film his most epic film: Andrei Rublev, 1966, an extraordinary fresco set in the Russia of the fifteenth century, deeply disturbing the government of the USSR , Banning its exhibition in the country for more than five years, and boycotting its presence at the Cannes Film Festival. They accused the film of being violent, of being full of historical inaccuracies and, above all, of alluding to religious questions improper of the Soviet state. Andrei Tarkovski is tagged from that moment as a director Non Grato and is constantly monitored.
Six years later and after participating in uncredited way in several films, the direction of Solyaris (Solaris), that the Soviet government wanted to throw to the market like the answer to the American film of Stanley Kubrick : 2001: a space odyssey, 1968. Although it is the film of which it feels less proud Tarkovski, not because it is a minor work in its brief and rich filmography, since the final result is a fascinating history on the soul Of the human being set in a space future devoid of effects of the genre of science-fiction that did not interest the director anything. Perhaps it is the beginning of his great metaphysical cinema that tirelessly explores the human soul to transmit in the spectator not ideas, but emotions. Tarkovski is not interested in ideologies or symbols, but the reflection that the art of cinema can suggest in the viewer. His camera already begins to move with extreme subtlety looking for a unique minimalism that will develop with authentic mime in each new work.
Solaris suffers no less than 35 warnings from the censor committee; And among them, one that repudiates the concept, on the part of Tarkovski, to associate God with the ocean. This is simply unacceptable and gratuitous for state censorship. It is almost a miracle that after this “challenge” to the Russian authorities, can undertake one more film; But after many efforts and sacrifices, he succeeds in filming, which is probably his first absolute work: Zerkalo (The mirror, 1975), based on his own life and his sentimental experiences. The film is produced with little budget and is classified as a third category film and destined to exhibit in small rooms and of little affluence of public.
The true persecution of the artist had begun. And the end of this poisoned relationship ends with his following film: Stalker, 1979. Magnificent work that is almost a miracle of the tenacity of the artist, since it suffered a hard setback when all the negative of much of the film, was ruined in the laboratory. Once finalized, those responsible for its distribution called it “philosophical” garbage “that could not interest anyone.
Andrei Tarkovsky could no more (the authorities changed the scripts and repudiated his style) and rushed out of the USSR to Italy, ready to seek the freedom that they did not grant him in his native country. But in Europe, producers are only interested in the box office yields and do not welcome the filmmaker with open arms. According to his sister, the producers did not understand that Andrei cinema was not for all audiences.
But fortunately, four years later he gets funding to direct Nostalghia, an absolute masterpiece, which he himself considered his best film. The film shot in Tuscany, eludes the magnificent Italian landscapes, to focus on misty and dark environments where the sadness and longing for the lost homeland reign.
We could say that it connects directly with Zerkalo (The mirror), with the difference that now we do not talk about the memories of childhood and youth as a reflection of the past, but the lacerating pain left by those memories lived and permanently lost in exile . The filmmaker knows he will never return to his country and decides to hold a press conference in Milan, where he makes a public statement about his future intentions. Russian secret agents follow him closely and compel the filmmaker to flee to Sweden, where he finishes his career with Offret (Sacrifice, 1986), a golden ticket to one of the richest and most painful artistic careers in film history. The film has a very small budget, but it is enough so that the aesthetics of the filmmaker can develop satisfactorily and transmit to the viewer those vibrant emotions that his stories drew with passion and thoroughness of craftsman happy in his altruistic work of giving art to others without receiving Nothing in return. After all, that is the work of the true artist, he always said.
Sacrifice, like Nostalghia, also tells the story of a man who sacrifices himself for others to save humanity and thus redeem it from sin. And the sin of the world is the lack of faith, which leads to incommunication and absolute indifference.
The work of camera returns to be spectacular in its will to wrap to its personages and to accompany them in silence and with great respect. It is sublime the domain that makes of the perspectives, aided by lateral traveling (prodigious final sequence without cuts in Nostalghia, of nine minutes of duration in which the protagonist runs a pool without water from one end to the other with a candle that does not It can be extinguished, because its sacrifice depends on it to save the world).
Tarkoski’s cinema captures life in a bite of blood, which the filmmaker seeks so intensely that can only produce intense pain, but at the same time liberating. In this last stage of his filmography, the filmmaker no longer seeks religion, but spirituality, because he is exiled and his despair has no limits. What previously made him happy: the contemplation of Art, now rejects it with fury and violence because it attacks and devours the heart.
Denial of beauty? No, just preserving it to look for better times to live in.
But his life ended shortly after Sacrifice (the film was made on the bed of a hospital in Paris), due to lung cancer.
Another important aspect of his films is the treatment of sound; And is that Tarkovski is one of those few directors who have understood that sound is an essential part, as is light and camera movements, of the film as such. His concept of sound tended to abstraction many times, but was always natural and consistent with the soul development of his characters. No one who has seen his movies can forget the rumor of water, the trickle of water, the echo of water. Water, always present in all his films as an element of absolute purity, cleansing the soul, transgression of affections and making vital decisions to act accordingly. The rain appears like a ghost, of unexpected, sometimes with force and others almost imperceptible, but that rain rarely wet its personages, these seems to dance around her with security, with confidence; It is as if the moisture of the water protected them and kept them in the heat of the home. Many times his characters lie on the ground and around them are puddles of water, even animals do: horses and dogs.
Andrei Tarkovski never died because his work lives.
And that ability to live beyond death, only have a few chosen by Art.
Miguel Ángel Barroso is a dedicated and published Film Historian. His credits include organizing numerous international film festivals and authoring several books including “The Hundred Best Films of Italian Cinema History” (2008) and “The Hundred Best Films of the 20th Century” (2009). Miguel organized the videoconference, “The Unforgettable Anna Magnani”, in tribute to the actress Anna Magnani on the centenary of his birth, held at the Italian Cultural Instituto Madrid.