Recently I watched Ivan's Childhood on DVD, the first feature film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky from 1962. Apparently, MOSFILM gave Tarkovsky the chance to resuscitate a movie that had stalled out. Although he stepped into a film begun by another director, Ivan's Childhood has all the signature style of Tarkovsky: the metaphysical poet of images and an explorer of subjective consciousness.
What Tarkovsky shows from the point-of-view of twelve-year-old Ivan
is the particular cruelty war visits upon children: a poignant loss of
innocence with irony implicit in the film's title.
Tarkovsky explores the dramatic tension of this antiwar premise by
interspersing wartime scenes near the Russian front in the Great
Patriotic War (WWII) with Ivan's daydreams of an earlier childhood.
Young Ivan escapes to be among a Russian company at the front. As a
volunteer scout, Ivan offers his smallness as less
noticeable by Germans. Shot among spartan interiors, swampy birchlands,
and unnatural landscape mayhem, the war scenes contrast with the
daydream scenes Tarkovsky calls up, giving us Ivan's memory of what war
irrevocably took away.
All the innocence of childhood spills forth: slow, gray-tonal shots
of the natural beauty that is rural life: bountiful crops, gentle
livestock, and, of course, the loved ones of family.
But why does Ivan insist on being at the front in war, fully in
harm's way? Tarkovsky shows Ivan has a relentless toughness. Ivan talks
back to adult soldiers and is no obedient comrade. Something stronger
powers Ivan's quest. More than lost childhood, nothing less than
vengeance powers Ivan's true motivation.
As I said, Tarkovsky's mastery in cinema is his ability to bridge
objective, expressionist reality (dialogue, gestures, props) and take
us into the interior space of subjectivity. Ivan's Childhood succeeds
in that way--at a level that invites comparisons with Truffaut's 400
Blows for its masterful evocation of childhood innocence lost.
Tarkovsky is better known in America for Solaris, the "Russian
2001," answering Kubrick's
1968 masterpiece ("Hal, please open
the pod door.").
Alas, I watched Kubrick's 2001
recently, also on DVD. While I
thought Hal and the technology looked amazingly fresh after 45 years,
the storyline seemed thin and more an occasion for pioneering visual
effects. This second viewing of 2001
convinced me I had to revisit
Tarkovsky's Solaris. Now
that's a space film with heft
story collection, The Cat
at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)
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