Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Target #256: Ivanovo detstvo / Ivan's Childhood (1962, Andrei Tarkovsky)

TSPDT placing: #538
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky, Eduard Abalov (uncredited)
Written by: Vladimir Bogomolov (story) (screenplay), Mikhail Papava (writer), Andrei Konchalovsky (uncredited), Andrei Tarkovsky (uncredited)
Starring: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgeni Zharikov, Stepan Krylov, Nikolai Grinko, Valentina Malyavina

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

Andrei Tarkovsky landed his first major project {after his diploma film, The Steamroller and the Violin (1961)} when original director Eduard Abalov was fired from the production, his work deemed unsatisfactory and unusable. Given that Ivan's Childhood (1962) was initiated by other artists, one gets the sense that perhaps Tarkovsky's heart wasn't entirely in this one – it feels like a substantially less-personal film than Andrei Rublev (1969) or Stalker (1979), the other two I've seen so far. Nevertheless, I think I loved it even more than both of these. In his ability to establish mood, Tarkovsky was unsurpassed by any except perhaps Kubrick, boundless emotion communicated through a single beautifully-captured shot. The relatively straightforward narrative and themes of Ivan's Childhood remove the nagging ambiguity of which the director was so very fond, allowing the viewer to simply immerse themselves in the overwhelming atmosphere. Perhaps it'll prove the least durable of Tarkovsky's efforts, but, for now, I have to say that I adored every moment.

The loss of childhood innocence is a common motif in war-themed pictures, and seems particularly prevalent in Soviet cinema – for the finest example, look towards than Elem Klimov's harrowing Come and See (1985). In this film, a close forerunner, Nikolay Burlyaev plays Ivan, a twelve-year-old orphan employed as a Russian spy on the Eastern Front. After his bright, idealistic childhood is yanked away by German soldiers, Ivan commits himself to the Soviet cause, refusing to attend school in favour of infiltrating enemy territory to gather strategic information. Stubborn and weary, he tramps cautiously through the clammy river swamps, keeping low to avoid detection. Even back in Russian territory, Ivan no longer bears any traits of the lively youth he once was. He resents the interference of adults, even those who tentatively regard him as an adopted son. The film's title, Ivan's Childhood, notably refers only to the vivid flashbacks of Ivan's earlier years; from the moment his mother fell from a bullet, his childhood was over.

It doesn't need saying that Tarkovsky's film is beautifully-shot – indeed, that would be an understatement. Vadim Yusov's cinematography is crisp, haunting and atmospheric, a truly marvellous effort from a photographer whose only previous experience was also on Tarkovsky's diploma work. Ivan's Childhood contains little of the rampant brutality that made Come and See such a traumatic, visceral experience, but instead achieves success through subtle contemplation, as was the director's style. Ivan's forever-shattered innocence is most startlingly recognised in the shadowy serenity of the river swamp, encroached only intermittently by the silent arc of an enemy flare. Ivan's wistful childhood memories are always basked in a radiant sunlit glow, but his present and future are confined only to the murky gloom of a marshland, or the cold walls of a military bunker. When the Russian base is faced with a German blitz, his only worry stems from the surreal realisation that he's not frightened in the slightest. An irreversibly corrupted mind and soul, Ivan marches onwards to his death.

Currently my #6 film of 1962:
1) Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
2) La Jetée {The Pier} (Chris Marker)
3) Le Procès {The Trial} (Orson Welles)
4) To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan)
5) Birdman of Alcatraz (John Frankenheimer)
6) Ivanovo detstvo {Ivan’s Childhood} (Andrei Tarkovsky, Eduard Abalov)
7) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
8) Cape Fear (J. Lee Thompson)
9) Panic in Year Zero! (Ray Milland)
10) The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer)


ackatsis said...

To my readers:
My apologies for the considerable gap in "Shooting Lessons" posting in 2009. I've been working a ridiculous number of days in the last few weeks, and my latest filming project has also taken up a lot of time.

My two others blogs, however - "Shooting in the Dark" and "Short Cuts" - have been kept reasonably active.

Jump_Raven said...

I agree about this film Andrew it's my favorite Tarkovsky and I have seen Andrei Rubelev, Solaris, Mirror, Stalker, and Nostalghia. By the way, when you do see Nostalghia please, please, please get in touch with me because I couldn't make heads or tails of that film.

ackatsis said...

Hi Raven,
Thanks for sticking around during my Top 1000 hiatus. I'm looking forward to seeing more Tarkovsky, but he's not the sort of filmmaker you just sit down and watch any old time. You have to make an event out of it...

"Nostalghia" is on the TSPDT 1000 (#425), so, when I eventually get around to watching it, you'll know!