Three balding middle-aged dudes wearing overcoats assemble at a tiny bar – The Writer, The Professor (of physics) and the Stalker, who will lead them to The Room inside The Zone, where… something will happen, possibly.

The Stalker is nervous, hired as a guide but seems unsure of everything. The Writer is drunk and arrogant, argues with the Stalker at every juncture. The Professor came as a saboteur, meaning to destroy the Room, but doesn’t go through with it. And the movie conjures its entire sense of mystery and horror through dialogue and behavior, with no special visual effects, just fields and damp rooms.

What exactly the Zone/Room does is mysterious – it provides enlightenment or fulfills unconscious desires – and the Stalker is cagey and possibly deceptive, revealing stories of other stalkers and their sorry fates. After an argument, the men presumably don’t even enter the room, meeting the Stalker’s wife back at the bar. Epilogue with their daughter, poetry and telekinesis, feeling like a scene from Mirror.

Wife of Stalker: Alisa Freyndlikh of Elem Klimov’s Rasputin

Daughter of Stalker:

The film’s writers also did the source novels for Hard to be a God and Sokurov’s Days of Eclipse. The Prof (in the hat) was Nikolay Grinko, at least his fifth Tarkovsky film, also in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The Writer was Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Andrey Rublev himself.

Entrancing from the start, with striking images and a very mobile camera, almost in the mode of Mikhail Kalatozov’s recent The Cranes Are Flying. It’s always interesting when one of my favorite modes of filmmaking – immaculately composed frames, visual beauty in sharp black-and-white – is the early work of a filmmaker who progresses to more diffuse color photography (see also: Leos Carax, Pedro Costa, Ingmar Bergman). Cowritten with Andrey Konchalovsky, already a director himself, and half the cast would return in Andrei Rublev.

Ivan is a spy kid for the Russian army, trying to stay with his military family as long as possible, though they keep trying to ship him to military school and get him out of active combat. Story is told with flashbacks and sidetracks, and crazy great photography. Obviously, being a Russian war movie, it doesn’t end well.

D. Iordanova:

Nearly every scene in Ivan’s Childhood is handled in a manner out of the ordinary, suggesting heightened consciousness of style, point of view, framing, and fluid camera. … Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds seems to have had an artistic impact on the film, with its deep interiors lit by rays of light squeezing through cracks, its moments of veering consciousness, and especially its dislodged religious symbols placed amidst smoking ruins. Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, a critical realist film interweaving dream sequences, is a likely influence as well.

It is in connection with this film that [Tarkovsky] first spoke against the logic of “linear sequentiality” and in favor of heightening feeling through poetic connections, of using “poetic links” to join together film material in an alternative way that “works above all to lay open the logic of a person’s thought” and that is best suited for revealing cinema’s potential “as the most truthful and poetic of art forms.”

I watched this ages ago, taped off TCM with the English title My Name Is Ivan, so now I think of it as My Name Is Ivan’s Childhood. Won the top award at Venice vs. Vivre Sa Vie, The Trial, Lolita and Mamma Roma.

An unseen narrator is flashing-back to his childhood in 1935. Since Tarkovsky made his first feature in the early sixties and this one is called Mirror, I’m going to assume it’s partly autobiographical. It’s also his Tree of Life – deeply-felt fragments with no easily-readable storyline. I might have missed some and misinterpreted the rest, but here are the episodes as I saw them:

1. A stutterer is cured under hypnosis. Sepia-toned film, shadows of camera crew visible, and neither character appearing in the rest of the story, because this episode is watched by the young protagonist on television.

2. color, a lost doctor talks to a woman at her house while two shaved-headed boys watch drowsily from a hammock. He leaves, turns back as a great gust of wind blows through the grass. I could watch this segment all day.

3. color, the barn burns down. Long takes bring The Sacrifice to mind.

4. b/w, woman wet hair vamping like The Ring monster, the house crumbles around her like a Low video, older woman appears in mirror reflection.

5. color, Alexei talks to his mom over phone, an Andrei Rublev poster on his wall. “Remember the hay-loft that burned down at the farm?”

6. b/w, woman proofreader thinks she’s made an error, runs through a printing press to check and it turns out okay but then everyone insults her. I think she is called Marousia, or Masha.

7. color, unseen man talking to ex-wife who reminds of his mother (same actress). “When I recall my childhood and my mother, somehow she always has your face.” Their son is Ignat. Wife might be Natalya. b/w news footage interlude.

8. color, Ignat has deja vu, then sees people who might not exist when left alone, talks to dad on phone.

9. color, a boy, maybe Ignat or his dad when young, in army training, notices girls, throws a fake grenade. War footage in b/w.

10. color, bird lands on freckly boy’s head

11. color, the mother/wife works in a ruined room.

12. b/w, Ignat’s unseen father wants Ignat to live with him, but ex-wife and Ignat disagree, dad says Ignat is stupid and recommends the army. Flashbacks and dreams: a bird flies through a windowpane.

13. color, mom comes to visit relative of the doctor – same one from first scene? Tells doc’s wife “a ladies little secret” while boy is alone looking in mirror. Red-haired girl might be Alyosha. They both feel sick. A chicken is killed.

14. b/w, a woman levitates

15. color, shaved-head kid talking to mom at farm, but mom is the old woman from reflections in #4.

16. color, doctor looking at sick guy, we see his hand holding a little bird

17. color, young woman lays on some guy in field, while two kids walk with older woman.

RW Knight for Reverse Shot:

Each event-that is, each cut, each encounter, each memory flashed back or forward-in the film’s networked composite is skewed by the film’s narrator. This narrator is the camera, and the film. His face is never seen. We are denied an identifying reverse shot. We are simply presented with his point of view: the identification is our instantaneous assimilation. His disembodied voice, weathered and granular, presides over the whole body of the work. His body is the work: the film and the guiding frame of the film. Occasionally when reading poetry the voice-over registers differently than when heard talking to other characters from outside the frame, but it still sounds like the same man. In fact, there are two voices: the poet-narrator is voiced by Arseni Tarkovsky, the director’s father, while the strictly first-person-narrator/character is voiced by Innokenti Smoktunovsky, the “first international Russian film star” (according to imdb.com), one of many point of view refractions. As identities merge in the film (father becomes son while mother becomes (ex-) wife and the son becomes his father in youth) they overlap in reality as well: the real father becomes the film star, and vice versa, incorporating their identities in the film, and its maker.

TCM summarizes:

The Mirror forgoes a conventional narrative structure, instead weaving together loosely autobiographical reminiscences, dreams and newsreel footage to suggest how the past is reflected in the present, both on a personal and on a larger historical level. … As a further personal touch, his real-life mother Maria appears as the mother in old age, his wife Larissa appears as the doctor’s wife to whom the mother sells an earring, and his stepdaughter appears as the red-headed girl with whom the narrator falls in love as a young boy.

Some good wind, and fire. Slow motion. Objects move by themselves, sometimes mysteriously just before an edit. This is the closest Tarkovsky came to making The Shining.

Begun in 1968 then interrupted to make Solaris. Appears in the Sight & Sound directors poll top-ten (and critics poll top-twenty). Probably not my favorite Tarkovsky movie, but neither would I mind watching it again right this minute.

Largely consisting of footage filmed in the mid-80’s, a reunion (after five years apart) of Andrei Tarkovsky and his family as the director lay deathly ill, also supervising final picture and edit on his final film, The Sacrifice, and earlier behind-the-scenes footage of the making of that film’s most impressive single shot seven months earlier in Sweden, as the house burned down.

Tarkovsky:

Rivette/Daney reference: “The tracking shot is no longer a moral issue but a metaphysical one.” Marker also delves into Tarkovsky’s films (including the student short of The Killers), discusses the Russian mysticism and other elements, but goes way beyond showing a bunch of images and telling us how beautiful they are, which would be incredibly easy to do with Tarkovsky films. It’s under an hour long but with plenty of room to breathe – not cramming in as many facts about Tarkovsky as the hour would allow, which would reduce his work to trivia.

Tarkovsky directs, with an inset of what he’s directing: three figures in Sweden, bringing briefly to mind the opening of Sans Soleil

Rosenbaum called it “the best single piece of Tarkovsky criticism I know of, clarifying the overall coherence of his oeuvre while leaving all the mysteries of his films intact.”

“You want to be happy. There are more important things.”

A woman (Domiziana Giordano of Godard’s Nouvelle Vague) is a faithless tourist in an italian church, cluttering its ancient traditions with her modern feminist ideas. An interesting, beautiful scene but I knew Tarkovsky wouldn’t have a female protagonist, so it turns out she’s the Italian translator for our Russian poet hero Andrei (Oleg Yankovskiy of The Mirror and The Man Who Cried). He’s visiting some ancient hot baths as research for a book he’ll write on an 18th-century Russian composer who spent some time there.

Andrei becomes fascinated with local madman Domenico (Erland Josephson of The Sacrifice and some eight Bergman films). Visits his rainy, ruined house and listens to his superstitions. Returns to the translator, who is leaving in a rage, says Andrei is so charmless and boring that he may not even exist. She acts like she’s breaking up their love affair, even though they didn’t have one. But later, safely back in Rome with her boyfriend (a humorless-looking businessman) she phones Andrei telling him to meet Domenico in Rome.

Instead, Andrei goes back to the baths and attempts to complete Domenico’s quest to walk from one side of the pool to the other holding a lighted candle, while Domenico himself gives a speech atop a statue then lights himself on fire. Andrei has two failed attempts and a single success in one mobile ten-minute shot, after which Andrei seems to collapse, leading to a long, crazy black-and-white shot of the poet with Domenico’s dog in front of a Russian house within an Italian cathedral.

Co-written with Antonioni/Fellini screenwriter Tonino Guerra, won three awards at Cannes. Can’t say I understood the movie’s intentions, but I enjoyed it for being a gorgeous bit of cinema. Some fun trick photography and lots of very long takes, plus imagery I recognized from other Tarkovsky movies, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen one – ruined houses in My Name Is Ivan and Stalker, plants waving underwater in Solaris.

Acquarello says he filmed it “in exile,” calls it a “symbolically obscure … cinematic abstract of spiritual hunger” that “mourns an irretrievable past and an uncertain future.”

Tarkovsky: “I do not harbor any particularly deep or profound thoughts about my own work. I simply have no idea what my symbols represent. The only thing I am after is for them to give birth to certain emotions.”

“I want to give expression to the impossibility of living in a divided world, a world torn to pieces.” In interviews, Tarkovsky says that his lead character is an architecture professor and Domenico a former math teacher. “Let us say that what I like the most in them is the confidence with which the madman acts and the tenacity of the traveler in his attempts at achieving a greater level of understanding. That tenacity could also be called hope.”

One more: Tarkovsky says he most values in this film “its almost unbearable sadness, which, however, reflects very well my need to immerse myself in spirituality. In any case, I can’t stand mirth. Cheerful people seem guilty to me, because they can’t comprehend the mournful value of existence. I accept happiness only in children and the elderly, with all others I am intolerant.” And when asked about his pessimism: “The true pessimists are those who continue to seek happiness. Wait for two or three years and then go and ask them what they have attained.”

Thanks very much to nostalghia.com for their collection of translated interviews and articles.