Andrei A Tarkovsky • Director of Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer
“My father didn’t even like his films”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2019: We talked to iconic filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky’s son, Andrei A Tarkovsky, about his unusual documentary Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer, presented in Venice Classics
Shown at the Venice Film Festival as part of Venice Classics, Andrei A Tarkovsky’s documentary Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer [+see also:
interview: Andrei A Tarkovsky
film profile] finally allows his famous father to speak for himself, swapping “talking heads” for the recorded voice of a man who influenced thousands and keeps doing so, even after his passing in 1986.
Cineuropa: In movies devoted to filmmakers or artists, it’s usually others who talk about them. But you allow your father to talk about himself, in a way. Why?
Andrei A Tarkovsky: I started this project many years ago. At first, it was supposed to be a more traditional documentary, but the idea was to incorporate his diaries, and after going through his archives, but also after reading all of the books and critical articles about his work, some of them good and some of them less so, I thought: “Why don’t I show what he wanted to say?” That’s why I chose this format, using hundreds of hours of his recordings. The biggest challenge was to then create a story out of it, but that was the main idea: to make him speak.
I love the part where he recounts one particular event, mentioning that all the critics were there and, “as usual, they didn’t understand anything”.
Yes, exactly [laughs]. At that time in the Soviet Union, he felt misunderstood. He still is, especially because of this religious aspect to his character and his work. It was something he inherited from his father’s poetry and Russian culture – these kinds of philosophical thoughts that exploded at the end of the 19th century, only to end abruptly with the revolution. But they survived through art and poets, and my father continued this. He always believed in legacy – he thought his father gave him a lot, and his favourite writer was Dostoyevsky. That already says something about his vision of life.
Often, when talking to directors, they say: “I don’t like to analyse my movies.” In his case, you seem to suggest something else?
Some of these recordings come from meetings with other people, questioning him about his films. He wasn’t that eager to talk about it. He didn’t even like his films! He used to say: “I am not a good filmmaker. I do it better than some, but that doesn’t make me good.” Looking back, he would always talk about things he would change, striving for the absolute. That being said, he needed to be critical about his work sometimes, like in the book Sculpting in Time. But he wrote it over 30 years, so it’s different from a spoken interview, and it’s interesting to listen to all that now. Especially because more often that not, it was completely different from what the critics would say.
The film is divided into chapters; is that the kind of structure you always had in mind?
His films were his life, and his life was his films, so these eight chapters mirror eight films. Each one was an event, and it’s difficult to separate the two. With Andrei Rublev, that’s when the crisis started with the Soviet bureaucrats; then, in Solaris, he tried to avoid conflict, but still it came out very religious. All of these films are extremely autobiographical, too, and I am not just talking about Mirror [known as his most personal work], but also Stalker, Nostalghia and The Sacrifice. But he didn’t mean to do that. The hero of The Sacrifice suffered from cancer in the first draft. Then my father fell ill as well and said: “I have to stop making these films, as they always turn out to be true in the end.” By the time they were finished, they would always influence his destiny.
When you say that “his films were his life”, how was it from your perspective? Growing up with someone so focused on his work must have been hard.
I think our family life was extremely interesting. He was a very nice and joyful person to be around. Of course, he was always concentrated on his goals, but he used to share everything. He was very communicative, and it was interesting to be around all of these fantastic ideas. He used to create at home, sat at the dinner table. That’s something I miss the most – that creative atmosphere and those thoughts he would explain in a very simple way. I was just a kid, but he would teach me philosophy, as that was his idea of education. He spoke to me like he would to an adult.
You really show his ideas developing, from a doodle in a notebook to a finished scene. Where does all of this material come from?
From his archives, which are here, in Florence. What you see in the film is just a small part – we wanted to show how rich his heritage is. Along with my editor, Michał Leszczyłowski, who worked with him on The Sacrifice, we enjoyed spending months recollecting these memories. My father was so precise, but he would prepare and then stop, because when you are shooting, that’s when the film is born. The last few dialogues of Stalker were written on set. That was his way of working – always creating.
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