April 4th would have been the 70th birthday of Russia’s best-known contemporary film director, Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986). A true intelligent whose father was the poet Arseny Tarkovsky (1907-1989), he made what has come to be called “author’s cinema”—intellectual films with deep philosophical and ethical meaning, a far cry from “mass” films. Thus, in the USSR, his art often had a semi-dissident flavor—if only because it was at odds with the main line of Soviet art, i.e. singing praises to the Soviet Man and his achievements.
One of Tarkovsky’s favorite actors, Lithuanian Donatas Banionis, said: “I wouldn’t dare to make a judgment whether Tarkovksy was mostly a lyricist or a philosopher, whether he was attaining his goals intuitively or just rationally. He was probably one of those great men who are not capable of explaining what they have accomplished.”
Tarkovsky’s main theme was the struggle of the individual confronted by his environment. Tarkovsky shot only six films in his homeland, most notably Ivan’s Childhood (1962), which earned him the Golden Lion at the 23rd International Film festival in Venice, Andrei Rublyov (completed in 1967), about the famous icon painter, and Solaris, a work of science fiction based on Stanislav Lem’s novel of the same name (the film was awarded a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972). His Mirror (1975) was one of his most enigmatic films, and was withheld from overseas distribution for six years after its completion. In the gloomy Stalker (1979), he dwells on themes such as man’s aspiration to true human values and the dangers such aspirations entail. The film was released in the USSR, but it was getting harder and harder for him to shoot films at home.
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