In conversation with Igor Pomerantsev
Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (1932 - 1986) was a Soviet film director, writer and opera director. Ingmar Bergman was quoted as saying "Tarkovsky for me is the greatest director, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream". His films are characterized by Christian spirituality and metaphysical themes. In summer 1984 Andrey Tarkovsky defected to the West. His most renowned films include Solaris (1972), A Mirror (1975), Stalker (1978), Nostalgia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986). Among other prizes he won Golden Lion at Venice (1962) and Special Jury Prize at Cannes Festival in 1984.
Igor Pomerantsev: Andrei Arsenyevich, your films as a rule are addressed to your Russian compatriots. Unlike a book one can not read a film secretly at home and pass it to a friend. Aren't you afraid to loose your fans in Russia?
Andrey Tarkovsky: There is no doubt that I am loosing my Soviet audience I have been working for these 20 or more years. Naturally it is a drama for me. On the other hand, video cassettes are becoming increasingly available, and in theory it's no more difficult to take a cassette across a border than to take a book. Which does not of course mean that millions of Soviet cinema-goers will have access to the films I make in the future, and unfortunately, there is little I can do about that. But I am sure that the Soviet authorities wouldn't have allowed me to make any more films of the kind I want to make and have made in the past. As it was, I was only able to make five films in 20 years in the Soviet Union, even when I enjoyed diplomatic relations with my cinema bosses in Moscow. If it hadn't been for famous Khrushchev "thaw", I should never have had any career in the cinema. I was very lucky in that I was beginning to work just at that time. The party didn't last long – the hangover arrived pretty quickly. I remember when my first film, Ivan's Childhood, came out in 1962, the Soviet cinematic establishment labeled it "pacifist", which of course for them was a pejorative term. The official line is that there are just wars and unjust wars. It's like Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment. It's all right to kill some people, but wrong to kill others. It's clear of course in retrospect that this stance is totally hypocritical. But, in any case, it didn't take long for me to feel the beginning of the freeze after the thaw and the problems I had with my second film, Andrey Rublev, which I started making in 1964 and finished in 1966,demonstrate very clearly the changes that were taking place at that time. I remember that the committee of the State Cinema Board, which included many of the most distinguished figures of the Soviet cinema, praised the film very highly. But immediately afterwards, the film was shelved for five and a half years. It was claimed it was anti-historical, which is completely untrue. We had tried to stick as closely as possible to the historical facts, and indeed the Rector of Moscow University wanted to acquire two copies of the film for the History Faculty of the University. Then it was accused of being anti-Russian. And finally they said it was too closed to Western models in that the hero was too much of an individual, opposing himself to the life of his time. Which is total nonsense: of course Rublev opposed himself to the forces of the world. He was a monk, after all, his whole life was a protest against the vanity of the world.That's the whole point.
In your films there is no a hint at the atmosphere of Khrushchev thaw. Why?
I've never wanted to make films about current events. For example, it's been said that Andrey Rublev was made from the position of someone who wanted to criticize the Soviet government and did it in the form of an allegory about the life of an icon painter of the 14-nth century. I totally reject this interpretation of the film. In the first place, I have never wanted to make films about the things going on around me, and in the second I would never dare to use Russian history in this way. Although I must say that I think the artist has the right to use his material as he likes, and that includes historical material. But what interested me were more fundamental problems of human life, philosophical problems, if you like. I've always been irritated by art that tries to be on top of events, though I don't deny anyone the right to produce that kind of art.
How did you live in your young years in the shadow of your famous father, outstanding lyric poet Arseniy Tarkovsky? Have you ever written your own poems?
Who hasn't in adolescence? But nothing worth showing anyone. It goes without saying that an artist feeds off his childhood throughout his life, that his childhood experience determines what kind of work he will produce. And of course my father being a poet had an enormous influence on my life: his poetry itself, but also his whole attitude to literature and art.
For 20 years of shooting films it seems you've gone through a kind of stylistic evolution from metaphor to metonymy, from redundancy to austerity. Is style for an artist his 'Weltanschauung'? Does it change?
I have always felt that the artist should aim for simplicity, since the very essence of the artistic image is that it uses the finite to express the idea of infinite, very limited material means to suggest a limitless multitude of meanings. So that is why I aim for the simple, the ascetic. On the other hand I don't think that having a guiding principle is always a help to the artist. Artists often set themselves aims which they then diverge from in their actual work, and the inner conflict that ensues can produce the most interesting results, not only in an aesthetic, emotional or even philosophical sense, but also in terms of form. In other words, the artist gains something new from it. You seem to have a kind of outburst, a protest against your own ideas, a sort of artistic self-destruction. It's as though you are building your aesthetic credo brick by brick, and then you knock it over in one moment, with one detail, one scene. Which only serves to confirm the essence of artistic creation: that it can not be reduced to any intellectual formula.
An English translation of abridged version of A.Tarkovsky and © Igor Pomerantsev, London 1984
Find further contributions from Igor Pomerantsev on Zeitzug