Review: Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2019: Forget Garbo – this time around, in the film by his son Andrey A, it’s Tarkovsky who finally talks
Andrei A Tarkovsky, as in the son of a certain Andrey Tarkovsky, as in the son of a certain Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky, as in I promise to stop now, arrived on the Lido with a curious little documentary this year. In Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer [+see also:
interview: Andrei A Tarkovsky
film profile], shown in Venice Classics at the Venice Film Festival, he doesn’t do “talking heads”, nor does he invite an endless parade of experts and aficionados to talk about his father’s films. Instead, he just allows him to speak for himself, courtesy of hours and hours of recordings in which he analyses his own work. So thoroughly does he do this that it would undoubtedly bring any college student to tears and numerous dissertations on the subject to an untimely, violent end.
He analyses his work, but also his life, memories and especially religion – something he always treated so seriously that it’s almost uncomfortable at times, at least now, in a world swamped with celebrity priests and the likes of PreachersNSneakers listing not so much their good deeds as their favourite designer gear. Not that Tarkovsky had it much easier, with God pretty much proclaimed as the enemy of the state in the Soviet Union, and while spirituality was always present in his films – all of them, really – it’s still interesting to listen to the man spelling it out.
Also because in this film blessed (sorry) with the material coming straight from his archives, starting with the poems originally recorded for Mirror but never used, followed by video excerpts and family souvenirs, Tarkovsky comes off as an eloquent creator, but also a ravenous viewer or reader – game to discuss Stalker as his most successful film, where “the end result matches the initial concept”, but also Hamlet if needed, and all the people who influenced him in some way. “It’s ridiculous to define Leonardo as a painter, it’s ridiculous to define Bach as a composer, Shakespeare as a playwright, Tolstoy as a novelist,” he goes on at one point. “They are all poets. In that sense, cinema has a poetic domain of its own because there is a part of life, part of the universe, which has not been understood by other art forms and genres.”
If it sounds a bit heavy, that’s because it can be at times, and it’s certainly a tad tiring how reverent the whole thing is, making one feel like it’s time to pray at the altar of Andrey. But just when it starts to look like its structure would be better suited to a podcast, along comes the footage from the sets, showing Tarkovsky talking to actors and setting up scenes, his ideas slowly developing from an innocent doodle in his notebook to a finished shot. And while some levity would surely have come in handy, then again, what do I know, following in the footsteps of people he certainly didn’t care for that much. “Although many critics were present, as usual, they didn’t understand anything,” goes his summary in the film. We miss you too, Andrey.
The film is an Italian-Russian-Swedish co-production written, directed and produced by Andrei A Tarkovsky, and co-produced by Dimitrij Klepatski of Klepatski Productions, Peter Kropenin of Hob AB and Paolo Maria Spina of Revolver, with contributions from the Istituto Internazionale Andrej Tarkovskij, Cinema Concern Mosfilm, RAI Cinema, the Toscana Film Commission, Svensk Film Archive Stockholm, the Gotland Film Commission and Film i Väst Gothenburg.
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