In The Sacrifice, a boy listens intently to his father as he waters a dry tree, something that he has been doing every day for years. The father tells the child the story of a monk who watered a similar tree for years until it flourished. The boy, unable to speak due to a throat operation, listens peacefully, immersed in his father’s presence. He is at peace with his two protectors: his father, the human representation, and the tree, the symbolic representation.
Beauty is what Tarkovsky displays here. Blissful, serene beauty.
Andrei Tarkovsky, a name not immediately recognisable for most people, was a film director, scriptwriter and film editor. He is regarded as one of Russia’s most influential directors, with all seven of his feature films considered masterpieces in their own right.
From his first inherited feature, Ivan’s Childhood, to his final film The Sacrifice, created shortly before his eventual death in 1986, his films all try to give prominence to our internal memories. They focus explicitly on aspects of our lives so as to remind us of all the beauty in our often negatively viewed world. He creates places that we can escape to, places that contain reference to daily emotions; joy, sadness, hope and brutality. He uses these elements to challenge us about certain issues, whilst simultaneously reminding us that over-analysis can lead to suffering and negative thinking. He is a true master of portraying the internal and external worlds as different beasts. Similar to Goethe’s take on the romantic notion, he comments through his films on the comfort of peoples’ internal thoughts compared to the harshness of the real world. These worlds contain adversity, but Tarkovsky always reminds us that there is optimism and light at the end of the tunnel if we’re willing to accept it.
Possibly his greatest work, Mirror, is a perfect example of a Tarkovsky film. It is an introspective look through our existence, one that reflects Tarkovsky’s soul. The film is presented as a blend of modern day reflections, a coverage of historical events and his own memories. It reflects his own personal experiences as a child, the relationship he had with his father, who as a reclusive poetic master of the 20th century had a heavy influence on his son. His focus on dreamlike states in the film, combined with a highly unconventional script made it very difficult for him to publish Mirror, but like many classic films the film that does not sell well at the time will often be re-evaluated by a later generation. As was the case with Mirror, now considered an example in how to create unique film with an unconventional, non-apparent coherency.
His most visually engrossing film, Andrei Rublev also shows another side of the man’s ability to create diverse, influential film. From the bizarre, abstract beginning sequence of the film to the ending, where Rublev’s passion is restored, the film follows a distinct path of Rublev looking for inner peace through his occupation in life, but plagued with an uncertainty that he cannot rid. It’s a more coherent plot that Tarkovsky takes with Andrei Rublev, one that makes it an easier film to watch, but still an incredibly detailed, precise work. It is a film that demonstrates the need for an artistic freedom in critical societies. It is a film that shows man as both in relation to his environment and also as a consequence of his surroundings. It is a film that portrays man’s destructive interaction with his own relationship. Above all though, it is a film that remains distinctly beautiful despite the destruction.
Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the most accomplished and creditable directors any generation will ever see. It is his seriousness in approach to what he wants to say through his films that really appeals to me. His reaction to cinema, in that he won’t deviate from his thought processes to accommodate the ideals of any interfering film publisher, company and the like, is hugely endearing.
In the words of the great Ingmer Bergman: ”Tarkovsky for me is the greatest director, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
There are very few directors who have the ability to remain distinctly personal, surreally optimistic and also have their films transcend beyond a certain cultural barrier. Andrei Tarkovsky is one of these film directors.