Andrei Tarkovsky - Director

Nationality: Soviet Russian. Born: Moscow, 4 April 1932; name sometimes transliterated Tarkovskij, or Tarkovski. Education: Institute of Oriental Languages, graduated 1954; All-Union State Cinematography Institute (VGIK), graduated 1960. Family: Married twice (two children by first marriage, one son by second marriage). Career: Geological prospector in Siberia, 1954–56; on diploma work The Steamroller and the Violin , began collaboration with cameraman Yadim Yusov and Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, 1960; directed opera Boris Godunov at Covent Garden, 1983; made last film, The Sacrifice , in Sweden, 1986. Awards: Lion of St. Mark for Best Film, Venice Festival, for Ivan's Childhood , 1962; International Critics Award, Cannes Festival, for Andrei Rublev , 1969; Special Jury Prize, Cannes Festival, for Solaris , 1972; Merited Artistic Worker of the RSFSR, 1974; Grand Prix, Cannes Festival, for The Sacrifice , 1986. Died: Of cancer, in Paris, 29 December 1986.

Films as Director:


There Will Be No Leave Today (short)


Katok i skripka ( The Steamroller and the Violin ) (+ co-sc)


Ivanovo detstvo ( Ivan's Childhood )


Andrei Rublev (+ co-sc)


Solyaris ( Solaris ) (+ co-sc)


Zerkalo ( The Mirror ) (+ co-sc)




Nostalghia ( Nostalgia )


Offret ( The Sacrifice )


By TARKOVSKY: books—

Andrei Rublev , Paris, 1970.

Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema , London, 1986; revised edition, 1989.

By TARKOVSKY: articles—

Interview with O. Surkova, in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1977.

"Against Interpretation," an interview with Ian Christie, in Framework (Norwich), Spring 1981.

"Tarkovsky in Italy," an interview with T. Mitchell, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1982/83.

Interview with J. Hoberman, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1983.

"Strasti po Andreaja," interview with A. Lipkov, in Kinoizkustvo , vol. 44, no. 2, February 1989.

"Dlja celej liÄŤnosti vysokih," in Isskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 4, April 1992.

"Dostoïevski au cinéma," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 476, February 1994.

"Ital'janskij dialog," in Isskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no.11, November 1995.

On TARKOVSKY: books—

Liehm, Mira, and AntonĂ­n Liehm, The Most Important Art: Eastern European Film after 1945 , Berkeley, 1977.

Borin, Fabrizio, Andrej Tarkovsky , Venice, 1987.

Jacobsen, Wolfgang, and others, Andrej Tarkovskij , Munich, 1987.

Le Fanu, Mark, The Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky , London, 1987.

Gauthier, Guy, Andrei Tarkovsky , Paris, 1988.

Turovskaya, Maya, Tarkovsky: Cinema as Poetry , London, 1989.

Tarkovskaya, Marina, compiler, About Andrei Tarkovsky , Moscow, 1990.

Goudling, Daniel J., Five Filmmakers: Tarkovsky, Forman, Polanski, SzabĂł, Makavejev , Bloomington, Indiana, 1994.

Johnson, Vida T., and Graham Petrie, The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue , Bloomington, Indiana, 1994.

On TARKOVSKY: articles—

Montagu, Ivor, "Man and Experience: Tarkovski's World," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1973.

Ward, M., "The Idea That Torments and Exhausts," in Stills (London), Spring 1981.

Strick, Philip, "Tarkovsky's Translations," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1981.

Dempsey, M. "Lost Harmony—Tarkovsky's The Mirror and The Stalker ," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1981.

"Tarkovsky Issue" of Positif (Paris), October 1981.

Zak, M., in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), September 1982.

Ratschewa. M., "The Messianic Power of Pictures: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 13, no. 1, 1983.

Mitchell, T., "Andrei Tarkovsky and Nostalghi ," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennysylvania), Spring 1984.

Tarkovsky Section of Positif (Paris), October 1984.

Green, P., "The Nostalgia of The Stalker ," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1984/1985.

Tarkovsky Sections of Positif (Paris), May and June 1986.

Tarkovsky Section of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1986.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 31 December 1986.

Christie, Ian, "Raising the Shroud," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1987.

Green, Peter, obituary in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1987.

Kennedy, Harlan, "Tarkovsky, a Thought in Nine Parts," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1987.

Leszczylowski, Michal, "A Year with Andrei," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1987.

Tarkovsky Section of Positif (Paris), February 1988.

Strick, Philip, "Releasing the Balloon, Raising the Bell," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1991.

Pomeranc, G., and others, "Zrimaja svjatost'," in Isskusstvo Kino (Moscow), special section, no. 10, October 1989.

Israel, L., "At erkende verden," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), vol. 37, no. 196, Summer 1991.

Totterdell, A., "Time and the Film Aesthetics of Andrei Tarkovsky," in Canadian Journal of Film Studies (Ottawa), vol. 2, no. 1, 1992.

Klimanova, E., "Edinstvo obrasa. Syn i otec," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 4, April 1992.

Alexander, L., and E. Demant, "Tajemnice Andrieja Tarkowskiego./Wygnanie i smierc Tarkowskiego," in Kino (Warsaw), vol. 26, no. 10, October 1992.

Génin, Bernard, and Vincent Remy, "Spécial Russie," in Télérama (Paris), special section, no. 2290, 1 December 1993.

Spidlik, Tomaš, "Slavjanskata duhovnost i pravoslavnata religioznost v kinoto na Andrej Tarkovski," in Kino (Sofia), no. 1, January 1995.

Skramtaeva, Ju, "Postsovetskoe myšlenie i anangard," in Isskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 9, September 1995.

Eichenberger, Ambros, "Filme über die Zeit—für die Ewigkeit," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), vol. 40, no. 26, 17 December 1996.

Graffy, Julian, Layla Alexander, and Bérénice Reynaud, "Tarkovsky," in Sight and Sound (London), special section, vol. 7, no. 1, January 1997.

Macheboeuf, Lise, "Andrei Tarkovski. Filmer l'exil spirituel," in Positif (Paris), no. 435, May 1997.

Lopušanskij, K., and others, "Tarkovskij v 97-m," in Isskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 10, October 1997.

Pallasmaa, Juhani, "Kauhun ja nostalgian tilat," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 1, 1997.

Todorov, Hristo, "Tarkovski s upovanie v boga," in Kino (Sofia), no. 2, 1998.


Leszczylowski, Michal, Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky , 1986.

* * *

"Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn't explain. What should he explain anyhow?" Thus Ingmar Bergman, in his autobiography The Magic Lantern , bows down before the Russian director while also hinting at what makes Tarkovsky's work so awkward to critics: it can verge on the inscrutable. Too opaque to yield concrete meaning, it offers itself as sacral art, demanding a rapt, and even religious, response from its audiences. His 1979 film Stalker , for instance, features a place called the Zone where all "desires come true." Rather like the land of Oz, this mysterious outland promises to reveal the secret of things to any intrepid travellers who prospect it to its core. But there are no cowardly lions or tin men to ease the journey, no yellow brick road to follow. The Zone is an austere realm—typical Tarkovsky territory—of bleak landscapes populated by characters laden with a peculiarly Russian gloom.

Watching Tarkovsky's films, his "sculptures in time," spectators can find themselves on a journey every bit as arduous as that undertaken by the pilgrims who headed toward the Zone. The son of a poet, the director treated film as a medium in which he could express himself in the first person. His six years at the Moscow State Film School, during which he received a thorough grounding in film technique from such Soviet luminaries as Mikhail Romm, did nothing to disabuse him of the notion that cinema was a "high art." He felt he could tap the same vein of poetic intimacy that his father sought in lyric verse. The necessary intrusion of camera crews and actors, and the logistical problems of exhibition and distribution, worried him not a jot. Although all his films are self-reflexive, he does not draw attention to the camera for radical Brechtian reasons. He is not trying to subvert bourgeois narrative codes. He is not even assaulting the tenets of Socialist Realism, a doctrine he found every bit as unappealing as Western mass culture aimed at the "consumer" (although his ex-partner, Konchalovsky, ended up in Hollywood directing Sylvester Stallone vehicles). What his constant use of tracking shots, slow motion, and never-ending pans—indeed his entire visual rhetoric—seems to emphasize is that he is moulding the images. He is a virtuoso, and he wants us to be aware of the fact.

Tarkovsky's first two feature length projects, Ivan's Childhood and Andrei Rublev , mark a curious collision between the personal and the political. On one level, the former is a propaganda piece, telling yet again the great Soviet story of the defeat of the Nazi scourge during World War II. But Tarkovsky destabilizes the film with dream sequences. The "big questions" that are ostensibly being addressed turn out to be peripheral: the director is more concerned with the poetic rekindling of childhood than with a triumphal narrative of Russian resilience. Similarly, Rublev , an epic three-hour biography of a medieval icon painter, is, in spite of the specificity and grandeur of its locations, a rigorous account of the role of the artist in society, as applicable to the 1960s as to the 1300s.

As if to display his versatility, Tarkovsky skipped genres, moving from the distant past to the distant future for his third feature, Solaris , a rather ponderous sci-fi movie taken from a novel by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. The harsh, Kubrick-like spaceship interiors suit the director far less than his customary wet and muddy landscapes. The musings on love and immortality engaged in by the cosmonauts as they hover above a sea of liquid gas—for a filmmaker with such a flair for images, Tarkovsky resorts to portentous dialogue with surprising frequency—weigh the story down. Still, Solaris works on a more intimate level when it explores a man's attempts to come to terms with the death of his wife.

Mirror is quintessential Tarkovsky; ravishing to look at, full of classical music, and so narratively dense as to be almost unfathomable on a first viewing. There are only 200 or so shots in it, and it is a film that fell into shape, almost by accident, late in the editing stage, but it is Tarkovsky's richest and most resonant work. The narrative flits between the present and the past, between the "adult" mentality of the narrator and the memory of his childhood. Moreover, the wide open spaces of the countryside where Tarkovsky spent his earliest years are contrasted with the constricting rooms of city apartments. Poems by the director's father, Arseny, appear on the soundtrack. Complementing these, Tarkovsky is at his most elemental in this film: the wind rustling the trees, fire, and water are constant motifs.

Tarkovsky went to enormous lengths to recreate the landscape of his infancy, planting buckwheat a year before shooting started, and constructing, from memory and old photographs, the bungalow where he had lived. There is a humour and warmth in Mirror sometimes absent in his work as a whole. (This may have something to do with the fact that it is his only film to have a woman protagonist. Margarita Terekova, who ranks with Anatoli Solonitzine as Tarkovsky's favourite actor, plays both the narrator's wife and his mother.) Generally, Tarkovsky terrain is desolate, ravaged by war, or threatened with catastrophe, as in The Sacrifice. In Mirror , however, the forests and rivers and fields are nurturing and colourful. Accused by the authorities of being narratively obscure, Tarkovsky testified that he received many letters from viewers who had seen their own childhoods miraculously crystallize as they watched the film.

Nostalgia was his first film in exile after his defection to the West. Shot in Italy, it showed the Russian pining for his homeland. He wouldn't live to see it again.

The Sacrifice is a typically saturnine final testament from a filmmaker overly aware of his own reputation. Tarkovsky believed that "modern mass culture, aimed at the consumer . . . is crippling people's souls." A self-conscious exercise in spiritual plumbing, his last work before his premature death from cancer in 1987 is weighed down by its own gravitas. Shot by Sven Nykvist, who used natural light for the interior scenes, and full of intricate pans, the film has the formal beauty that one has come to associate with the director. But its endless and wordy metaphysical surmising stops it from tugging at memory and emotion in the way of the best of his work, most notably Mirror.

—G.C. Macnab

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