No one is expected to be great at something at their first attempt. Especially not in the arts. When parents buy their child a violin, it’s almost a guarantee that they will spend the next month or so plugging their ears at the cacophonous sounds they will be hearing at least an hour a day. Filmmakers are not exempt of this concept. We’ve seen the first films of the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, and they’re not very good. Even the master Stanley Kubrick notoriously hated his first film Fear and Desire, going so far as to buy all prints of the film so no one could see it. However, every once in a while, we get someone who seems to have a complete understanding of their art in their first foray into it, like when Mozart first sat down at a piano and began placing notes on a ledger line. This is the case with the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and his debut feature-film Ivan’s Childhood.
Ivan’s Childhood, sometimes known as My Name is Ivan, was made in 1962 and is a tale of a boy named Ivan who is used as a scout during World War II. It follows Ivan’s war-torn youth and the lives of the people around him as they all have to deal with the conditions this event puts them in. It is based on the short story “Ivan” by Vladimir Bogomolov. The film was, as previously mentioned, Andrei Tarkovsky’s first, astoundingly so. To get to the point, Ivan’s Childhood is a very beautiful film and although when it comes to Tarkovsky’s sadly small filmography, works like Stalker, Solaris, and Andrei Rublev are usually given the most significant attention (deservedly so, may I add), I believe Ivan’s Childhood is just as worthy of this praise and attention.
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A Russian man named Andrei is in Tuscany. Not the beautiful sunny Tuscany we’re used to seeing, but a foggy and rainy one. He is holding a candle, attempting to carry it from one end of a drained pool to the other. In an astounding nine minute long lateral tracking shot, we see his struggle. He doesn’t get too far in his first attempt, and slowly walks back to the beginning of the pool, going to start again. He starts once more. He makes it a little further, attempting to shield the lit candle from the wind. He fails once again, although he’s made it a bit farther. On this third attempt, Andrei is devoting everything he has to keeping this candle lit. On his face is a look of intense concentration, shielding the candle with his coat and acting as if his life depends on this moment. Finally he makes it. He approaches the other side of the pool, and with every step closer, he struggles more. His legs become weak, sweat is on his brow. He carefully sets this lit candle down onto the side of the pool, and promptly dies. This is the final scene of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia. What does this mean? What could it possibly symbolize about our character and his journey? Well, probably nothing if you’re to take the words of the film’s director into account.
Andrei Tarkovsky is widely considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. He was hailed by Swedish film maestro Ingmar Bergman as “the most important director of our time.” His movies are rife with incredible imagery and beautiful storytelling. However, one unique characteristic that separates Tarkovsky from most storytellers is his aversion to symbols and symbolism in his films. Tarkovsky disliked the idea and believed it could ruin the composition of a scene and create a distraction for the audience. This is, by all means, a pretty unusual viewpoint. Symbolism has been an incredibly important part of almost all art since words were first put down to tell a story. So why did Tarkovsky think it was so harmful, and how does it relate to his own work and perhaps other films?
Continue reading Nostalghia (1983) →