In response to our season Stalking Tarkovsky, we asked a handful of Melbourne cinephiles to reflect on the Russian master Tarkovsky and his legacy across film. Drawing on influences both before and after his work, these are must-sees for anyone who is drawn to Tarkovsky's unique vision of time and space. See what ACMI Cinemas have programmed to celebrate Tarkovsky's enduring legacy below.
Director, Film Programs, ACMI
Connections and inspiration across art forms touch creators and audiences alike. Artists work from deeply personal spaces but inevitably there's the work of their peers, masters of the craft and the history of the medium that loom large.
In cinema, few directors cast a shadow as long as the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-86). As Nick James noted in Sight and Sound, "In the course of just seven feature films, Andrei Tarkovsky changed what cinema as an artform could achieve. His enduring influence can be seen in the eclectic array of filmmakers whose work, in different ways, owes him a debt."
Cinema is full of ghosts and conversations that happen in abstract ways for artists and audiences in the dark. We hope that the films in the Stalking Tarkovsky season offer a starting point for an engaging dialogue on how cinema reflects, inspires and generates.
Stalking Tarkovsky - a season of enduring legacy screening at ACMI:
“Ever go to the movies?” asks one of the mysterious hitmen in The Killers (1958). “You ought to go to the movies more.” Made at film school with fellow students Marika Beiku and Aleksandr Gordon, as an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Killers is one of my favourite of Andrey Tarkovsky’s film works and a masterclass in cinematic storytelling. Like Hemingway’s story, it doesn’t give too much away, and instead entices the audience into a darkened bar, few words spoken between glances exchanged as the unsuspecting locals respond to two strange men arriving in their small town. An American story, this impresses a desire for free expression in the Soviet Union, for the promise of a foreign opportunity, and yet the oppressive space of the bar is an imprisoning conflict. The camera enters the space before the outsiders do, an inviting but also invasive gesture.
Short films don’t often make an impression on me, and yet Tarkovsky proves most accomplished with this short form; as an accompaniment, his film The Steamroller and the Violin (1960) is a brief glimpse of a young boy whose colour and powerful editing take its impact far beyond the simple tale. The Killers, like many Tarkovsky films, embraces and cherishes its slow duration, the waiting embedded in the story itself, more so than the terrific drain of Robert Siodmak’s earlier film version of 1946. Both of these Tarkovsky works compress time, and yet keep their audience trapped within the narrative, always needing more. These two short films, with the faces of an innocent young boy and of two toughened men, are memorable more for their filmic gestures than their stories. Both have screened at the Melbourne Cinémathèque.
Eloise's top five Tarkovskian films:
“I sometimes feel that my perceptions of wind, of rain and of fire all owe just a hint of debt to him.”
Specialist Film and TV distributor from Hi Gloss Entertainment.
I first saw Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice at the Longford Cinema on a weekend afternoon. And it’s an experience that has lived brightly in my mind since. It didn’t change my life, but it did change my way of seeing. It was the first piece of cinema I had seen that was in no rush to go anywhere. It taught a youngish man the value of the long, reflective gaze. It taught me a little of the rewards of patience. It was Tarkovsky’s final film, and it was my introduction to this man who has always seemed painter as much as film-maker. A man who has forever portrayed nature at its most elemental on screen. I sometimes feel that my perceptions of wind, of rain and of fire all owe just a hint of debt to him.
The Tarkovsky framing was a wholly unique structure to me for a long time, but I welcome the occasional tribute to it/him. I’ve always seen the cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan as an inheritor of the Tarkovsky gaze – Three Monkeys, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia predominantly, Winter Sleep less so. I suspect Tarkovsky would enjoy Ceylan enormously. Another who skirts the edges of Tarkovskys view is Claire Denis, never more so then in L’Intrus. I first saw this in Berlin early in the morning, and on the edge of sleep, recall feeling I was in a Tarkovsky film at times.
Simon's top four Tarkovskian films:
A Melbourne-based director and production designer.
Cure presents long eerie shots of a dilapidated modern world, characters weighed down by complex existential dilemmas, time stretching, its passing felt acutely within the frame (and a sense of it continuing beyond). If Tarkovsky was to make a horror film, this would be it.
The cinematographer of Turin Horse was quoted as saying: ‘Unlike in Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies, time in Béla’s movies is not metaphysical; time in Béla’s films is existential. It has to be endured.’ To me, this was the penny-drop to really enjoying this film; an intentionally repetitive and gruelling portrayal of two people struggling against the daily elements to survive within their stark rural existence. Thanks Fred.
Andrei Zvyagintsev has taken the Tarkovsvky torch and really run with it. I don’t mean this in an imitative way (although his early films are seen as respectful reflections), more in the sense of a continuation. Zvyagintsev’s style is coming very much into its own and his cutting portrayal of modern Russian has him labelled a dissident by some. He also did twenty plus takes on many shots in Loveless; sometimes to catch the fleeting magic of a snowflake falling a certain way.
The foreboding wind, whispering of an encroaching storm, seems also to refract time in the rolling twilight hills of Anatolia. The effect is that of a strange, sinister dream where time feels elastic and the natural world is a conscious presence steeped in shadow and illusion. I can almost imagine a distant silhouette of the Stalker cresting one of those darkened hills.
I think Tarkovsky would have loved Song of Granite. The way it beautifully captures memory, not just of the life of sean nós (old style) singer Joe Heaney, but a deeper cultural memory of this ancient tradition and how it is intrinsically interwoven with the landscape. After the final reedy notes of one the deep, heartbroken ballads drops away, I daresay Andrei would be drying his cheek - I certainly was.
Jamie's top five Tarkovskian films:
- Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)
- Turin Horse (Béla Tarr, 2012)
- Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017)
- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)
- Song of Granite (Pat Collins, 2017)
A Melbourne-based director and founder of Beg, Scream and Shout.
What I have enjoyed most in Tarkovsky's work is the images he creates to conjure an atmosphere and impression of his philosophy of the human condition. Two films came to mind when I heard he was a fan of Robert Bresson: A Man Escaped and Au Hasard Balthazar. In both films Bresson’s filmmaking is dictated by the elemental nature of the setting. In A Man Escaped, everything is stripped bare to create a stark, minimalist aesthetic, much like the prison itself, detailing every painstaking element that leads to the escape.
In Au Hasard Balthazar, the style has more freedom. It flows like the seasons that pass as we observe the abuse and brutality towards the donkey Balthazar by the selfish and destructive townspeople. This culmination of precise minimalism and elemental flow brings to mind Tarkovsky's Stalker as he guides his party through The Zone.
Tarkovsky creates a portrait of humanity through the world that the characters inhabit. The idea of characters being transformed by their natural environment, or using the elements and nature to reflect a mental state has been used to wonderful effect in more recent years by Lars Von Trier. I think of Kirsten Dunst bathing her self in the reflected light of the planet Melancholia, or the long exposure, slow motion shots that punctuate Anti-Christ.
Tarkovsky’s use of the artifice of cinema, to create powerful moments such as the final shot of Nostalgia which shows Andrei back at home with his dog, surrounded by the looming structure of the hollowed church as snow begins to fall, shares much in common with the bells ringing for Bessy in the final moments of Von Trier’s Breaking The Waves.
Michael's top four Tarkovskian films: