Made for the series “Cinema of Our Time,” Chris Marker’s informative tribute to the late Andrei Tarkovsky is an important contribution to contemporary film scholarship and will be a must for fest and quality TV programmers.
The format here is simple. Marker intercuts copious clips from Tarkovsky’s films, backed by insightful commentary, with two documentary sequences, one filmed when Tarkovsky lay mortally ill in Paris and the other, more familiar, when he was filming “The Sacrifice” in the Swedish countryside.
Film opens with the arrival of the director’s son, Andriusha, after the Soviet authorities finally allowed him a visa to come to France. It’s an emotional, very Russian, reunion. We then see the ailing director, still looking remarkably cheerful, chatting with family and friends from his bed and sipping champagne.
Marker inserts clips from celebrated Tarkovsky films while commenting on the director’s elemental use of earth, fire and water. He compares his work to that of Kurosawa, pointing out that both the Russian and the Japanese depicted a physical relationship to nature. He suggests that the carnality in Tarkovsky’s work stems from the fact that Russian mysticism is, unlike Catholicism, not “terrified by nature and the body.”
Unfortunately, in the version screened in Berlin, the extensive film clips were murky video dubs which in no way evoked the beauty of the original material. “Ivan’s Childhood,” “Andrei Roublev,” “Solaris,” “The Mirror,” “Stalker,” “Nostalgia” and “The Sacrifice” are all included, as well as rarely seen student films. There are also intriguing photographs taken of Tarkovsky’s 1983 Covent Garden production of “Boris Godunov.”
Footage of the director in Gotland filming “The Sacrifice” and instructing his actors and d.p. Sven Nykvist in the most minute detail will be familiar to many from the documentary “Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky,” but are still fascinating in this context.
Marker’s poetic commentary notes that, whereas in classic Hollywood cinema the favored camera angle allowed for images of the sky, in Tarkovsky the camera usually hovered above the characters, linking them to the earth. The veteran documentary director’s analysis of the Russian master’s mise en scene is endlessly informative and makes viewing the films again imperative.
It’s to be hoped that a better, clearer copy of Marker’s film can be found when the film travels the world in the coming months. The title is, per Marker, a wink to Solzhenitsyn, another great Russian artist who was exiled by the Soviets.