For style guide’s sake, I will call this movie Solyaris while the supposedly misunderstood masterpiece by Steven Soderbergh will be Solaris, which I’ll write about in that Viola Davis retrospective that I’m too lazy to do. I also heard that it expands on the original’s love story.
Despite beginning by looking into a wide lake’s reeds, Solyaris is a breeze compared to Andrei Tarkovsky’s other work. Rublev is comprehensible and straightforward enough despite its three-hour running time, Stalker devastating in its showing of the longest non-magic tricks ever. It makes me feel like a young luddite not remembering anything plot wise from Zerkalo but do you? What probably makes me think that this movie is fast paced – clocking in at two hours and forty-six minutes – are the quick cuts in the sequence portraying a non-hostile interrogation of a man who has previously been to the space station near the titular planet. It also adds to this eerie aura because the witness can’t corroborate his testimony with video footage, subverting the ‘show, not tell’ adage and successfully heightening the mystery.
Yes, despite its big budget, it has cheap sets, a grievance I have in other classic movies, but that criticism tries to make the movie sound like it also features Gondry’s cardboard box aesthetic. I treated this lightly. The protagonist, Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), travels to a space station near a planet with strange magnetic waves, throwing rules of physics and even life off-kilter. Everything is grubby and made of plastic, buttons are unlabeled and look similar, other characters stuck in the station smoke and light candles and tobacco occasionally, there are master bedrooms and flammable books. But what makes the movie enigmatic is the resurfacing of Kelvin’s wife, either as wishful thinking or a gift from the planet. Mrs. Kelvin’s love towards her husband adds to her heart wrenching pleas to prove herself human to the space station’s men. Her conundrum can be seen as an allegory of prejudice but how can we sympathize when her existence crosses the boundaries that science irreverently crosses.
The romance in Tarkovsky, in my humble opinion, is enough and even surpasses its Western equal in the well-crafted but overrated 2001:A Space Odyssey. Solyaris will no longer be showing for now. But I hope that this post goes live just in time for the last movie featured in TIFF’s Attack the Bloc retrospective, Piotr Szulkin’s film rendition of the Golem story, screening at the Lightbox tonight at 9PM. Images via TIFF and cine y literatura.
I’ve never wanted to scrub a surface shown on-screen until I’ve seen this, and I meant that in a good way.
The man who programmed the TIFF series on Russian Sci-Fi warned us that Andrei Tarkovsky‘s Stalker, adapted from Arkady and Boris Strugatzky’s novel called ”The Picnic at a Roadside,” was ‘accidentally’ filmed with expired stock, giving it that look as if he shot the movie in mercury, which captures light differently.
What he didn’t tell us is that makes way for normal colour, welcomed after the delightful yet rusty cinematography of the earlier scenes. This transition thus reminds me of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz which is profound until I realize that I’m not the first person to make the comparison. Here’s Jose with more of that.
But one of the trespassers of this Russian real estate – cordoned off after a meteorite attack like Tunguska – calls it home. We can give that word some political meaning. The characters have nicknames instead of names. The group’s mercurial guide, the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), help his new tourists the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolai Grinko) to find what they need to flourish in their fields. But their visit can be seen as reclaiming the happiness the government that has taken away what has once been theirs. Whether I’m off-base of or not, this land, called The Zone, has already been eerie in black and white, with “Life After People” like flowers showing up in ruins.
In colour it’s a totally different animal. The Zone makes the urbanite characters question the flowers lacking smell, the sand dunes, and a self-sufficient wild dog, if those creatures are what nature is like at all. The strange this is that the camera during the movie’s black and white portions look unstable while the compositions in the Zone make more sense, only off-centre in content.
In the threshold of the room within The Zone that gives its visitors happiness, the reason Writer and Professor are there in the first place, they decide to sabotage their mission, making Stalker go apeshit. A part of me said ‘Be a man, go in there and fail properly!’ Russian…fatalist…defeatism. But we watch these anguished characters for a longer period after their failure, determined that advertised happiness isn’t in the room across them.
Fifteen minutes, a few scenes, enough time for me to reacquaint myself with that part of the psyche that stops before the top rung in the ladder. How admirable it is to show the realism within myth-breaking. When they return to their city the Stalker is bedridden and feverish, still struggling to take care of her daughter Monkey (Natasha Abramova). Destroying a man’s belief system – despite the political symbolism above – is devastating, handled thus than the preceding version of the story. That home is forever lost.
- ANDY: Stalker (Tarkovsky, USSR, 1979) (dirkmalcolm.wordpress.com)
Andrei Tarkovsky‘s first film Andrei Rublev, like his later films, is known for his impressionistic environments inhabited by characters who exist as poetic entities. He’s also known for making movies with a long duration period. Both elements don’t make the best combination for me, but the film does have a lot of merits. Also, watch the film on the big screen if you can. The tenebrism and the close-ups look better in that format.
Nonetheless, the film for me doesn’t really start until three icon painters, Kirill (Ivan Lapikov), Danill (Nikolai Grinko), and Andrei (Anatoli Solonitsyn) set off and stop their rainy journey on a barn where a jester (Rolan Bykov) is performing for other townsfolk. His performance is physical, lively, lewd. The townsfolk repeat awatered down version of his song. Andrei stares and observes the jester like every other kid who didn’t know that staring is bad manners. He sees the man after the performance, tired but not necessarily in agony. He might even feel a camaraderie with the man, unappreciated for his talents that he exhausts himself for. Kirill steps in and says that the devil brought jesters into the world, although Andrei doesn’t show that he agrees with Kirill. The content of the jester’s song reached to some authorities, who have him arrested.
Kirill enters Theophanes the Greek‘s home. Kirill praises him and criticizes the man Theophanes has asked about – Andrei Rublyov. This is pretty much where I drool and bring up my art history background. Fifteenth century Russian icons were at the tail end on the Medieval chapter. All I knew about the era were Italians. Another impression I had of the Byzantine/Orthodox art was its rigidity, and that the image was more important. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention about the superstars of the era, which Theophanes has been and Andrei, at this part of the story, could potentially be. Anyway, Kirill’s main criticism of Andrei is that the latter didn’t seem to believe. Imparting his ‘opinion’ to the master, Kirill pleads for a public appointment to be the latter’s apprentice.
Theophanes hilariously – just to me – chooses the younger, more handsome Andrei instead, making Kirill really angry and denounces the monastery where they all live. Andrei then embarks on a second journey, the beginning of a new section in his life where he’ll see memorable sights and events along the way. These demonic moments eventually follow him through the town of Vladimir, where he’s commissioned. At least one does he take part in the lustful, violent world he only knows through theory, a Russia he hasn’t really been exposed to. He neither becomes lustful nor violent, but his experiences in this part of the plot posts the film’s real conundrum. Whether he’s passing through hell, passing through the real Russia, wondering how human beings can let a world become this degenerate and if all this exposure, participation and sympathy for evildoers makes someone a good or bad person. Tarkovsky doesn’t answer the questions more easily for us by depicting these devilish images with beauty, the long takes used to capture them letting his audience contemplate on moral dualities.
The Tatars raid Vladimir, and more than a decade later, many of the characters around Andrei have died, and those who haven’t are destroyed. The jester has little sense of humour left in him, and his bitter towards Andrei and accuses the latter of putting him in jail. He points out that Andrei has lost his looks, which isn’t Andrei’s biggest problem since Andrei has turned down work for a decade. The two are opposite a young bell maker’s son Boriska (Nikolay Burlyaev) trying to fill his father’s shoes, energizing the town in the process. Andrei observes the kid as he ha observed the jester in the past, as the audience wonders how the child’s efforts affect Andrei and his rusting talents.