Andrei Tarkovsky Talks Film

by Grant Douglas Bromley

Created 03/15/13

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These Criterion titles are listed in no particular order, but are listed because they were mentioned by Andrei Tarkovsky in his book "Sculpting In Time". Most of his favorites films were created by the contemporaries that he respected, or the filmmakers that he learned from while in film school. In addition to these films, he frequently praised the bodies of work by Luis Buñuel, Charlie Chaplin, Kenji Mizoguchi, Jean Vigo, and Federico Fellini.

  • "Bergman is a master with sound. It's impossible to forget what he does with the lighthouse in THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY: a sound on the very brink of audibility... War is the obvious catalyst for the cruel anti-human elements in people. Bergman uses the war in this film exactly as he uses the heroine's illness in THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY to explore his view of man."

  • "For instance, when Bergman uses sound naturalistically - hollow footsteps in an empty corridor, the chime of a clock, the rustle of a dress - the effect is in fact to enlarge the sounds, single them out, hyperbolise them... He singles out one sound and excludes all the incidental circumstances of the sound-world that would exist in real life. In WINTER LIGHT he has the noise of the water in the stream where the suicide's body has been found on the bank. Throughout the entire sequence, all in long and medium shots, nothing can be heard but the uninterrupted sound of the water - no footsteps, no rustle of clothes, none of the words exchanged by the people on the bank. That is the way sound is made expressive in this sequence, that is how he uses it."

  • "In Bergman's CRIES AND WHISPERS there is one particularly powerful episode, perhaps the most important one in the film. Two sisters arrive in their father's house where their elder sister lies dying. The film develops out of the expectation of her death. Here, finding themselves alone together, they are suddenly and unexpectedly drawn together by their sisterly tie and by the longing for human contact; they talk and talk and talk... they cannot say all they want to... they caress each other... The scene creates a searing impression of human closeness... Fragile and longed for... And all the more so since in Bergman's film such moments are elusive and fleeting."

  • "In Kurosawa's version of Macbeth we find a perfect example. In the scene where Macbeth is lost in the forest, a lesser director would have the actors stumbling around in the fog in search of the right direction, bumping into trees. And what does the genius Kurosawa do? He finds a place with a distinctive, memorable tree. The horsemen go around in a circle, three times, so that the sight of the tree eventually makes it clear that they keep going past the same spot. The horsemen themselves don't realise that they long ago lost their way. In his treatment of the concept of space Kurosawa here displays the most subtle poetic approach, expressing himself without the slightest hint of mannerism or pretentiousness. For what could be simpler than setting the camera and following the characters around three times?"

  • "There is one film that could not be further removed from the principle of direct observation, and that is Eisenstein's IVAN THE TERRIBLE. Not only is the whole film a kind of hieroglyphic, it consists of a series of hieroglyphics—major, minor and minute. There is not a single detail that is not permeated with the author's intent."

  • "What can one say, for instance, about the way Antonioni works with his actors in L'AVVENTURA? Or Orson Welles in CITIZEN KANE? All we are aware of is the unique conviction of the character. But this is a qualitatively different, screen conviction, the principles of which are not those that make acting expressive in a theatrical sense."

  • "In theatre actual blood cannot be convincing as a demonstration of poetic truth if it merely has meaning on one level, as a natural function. Blood in cinema, on the other hand, is blood, not a sign, not a symbol of anything else. Therefore when the hero of Wajda's ASHES AND DIAMONDS is killed surrounded by sheets hanging out to dry, and he presses one of these to his chest as he falls, and his scarlet blood spreads across the white linen to make a red and white symbol of the Polish flag, the resulting image is more literary than cinematic, even though it is extraordinarily powerful emotionally."

  • "I still remember the first film I managed to see at the Institute on the eve of the entry exams THE LOWER DEPTHS by Renoir, based on Gorky's play. I was left with a strange, puzzling impression, a feeling of something forbidden, clandestine, unnatural."

  • "Bresson's actors on the other hand will never seem dated, any more than his films will. There is nothing calculated or special in their performances, only the profound truth of human awareness within the situation defined by the director. They do not play personae but live their own inner lives in front of our eyes. Not for one moment does Mouchette reflect on her audience, or think of trying to convey the full 'depths' of what is happening to her. She never 'shows' the audience what a bad way she is in. She seems not even to suspect that her inner life may be observed, witnessed. She lives, exists, within her constricted, concentrated world, plumbing its depth. That is the secret of her magnetism, and I have no doubt that decades hence the film will be as overwhelming as it was on the day of its first showing."

  • "Dreyer's silent [THE PASSION OF] JOAN OF ARC has never ceased to affect us just as strongly [as the performance in Bresson's MOUCHETTE]."

  • "In world cinema there have been many attempts to create a new concept in film, always with the general aim of bringing it closer to life, to factual truth. Hence pictures like Cassavetes' SHADOWS, Shirley Clarke's THE CONNECTION, Jean Rouch's CHRONICLE OF A SUMMER. These notable films are marked, apart from anything else, by a lack of commitment; complete and unconditional factual truth is not consistently pursued."

  • "Of course people don't learn from experience; today's directors constantly use styles of performance that belong patently to the past. Even Larisa Shepitko's THE ASCENT is marred for me by her determination to be expressive and significant: the result is that her 'parable' has meaning only on one level. As so often happens, her effort to 'stir' the audience makes for an exaggerated emphasis on her characters' emotions. It is as if she were afraid of not being understood, and had made her characters walk on invisible buskins. Even the lighting is calculated to instill the performances with meaning. Unfortunately the effect is stilted and false. In order to oblige the audience to sympathize with the characters, the actors have been made to demonstrate their suffering. Everything is more painful, more tortured, than in real life - even the torment and the pain; and above all, more portentous."

  • "The completion of IVAN'S CHILDHOOD marked the end of one cycle of my life, and of a process that I saw as a kind of self-determination. It was made up of study at the Institute of Cinematography, work
    on a short film for my diploma, and then eight months' work on my first feature film. I could now assess the experience of IVAN'S CHILDHOOD, accept the need to work out clearly, albeit temporarily, my own position in the aesthetics of cinema, and set myself problems which might be solved in the course of making my next film: in all of this I saw a pledge of my advance onto new ground. The work could all have been done in my head."

  • "Underlying the concept of Andrei Rublev's character is the schema of a return to the beginning; I hope this emerges in the film as the natural and organic progression of the 'free' flow of life created on the screen. For us the story of Rublev is really the story of a 'taught', or imposed concept, which burns up in the atmosphere of living reality to arise again from the ashes as a fresh and newly- discovered truth."

  • "Unfortunately I never developed a working relationship with Donatas Banionis, who had the main part in SOLARIS, because he belongs to the category of analytical actors who cannot work without knowing the why and the wherefore. He cannot play anything spontaneously from within himself. He has first to build up his role; he has to know the relationship between the sequences, and what the other actors are doing, not only in his own scenes but in the whole film; he tries to take over from the director. This is almost certainly the result of all the years he spent in the theatre. He cannot accept that in cinema the actor must not have a picture of how the finished film is going to look. But even the best director, who knows exactly what he wants, can seldom envisage the final result exactly. All the same Donatas was very good indeed, and I can only be grateful that he played it rather than anyone else; but it was not easy."


  • By Eric Levy
    March 28, 2013
    06:18 AM

    What a wonderful list Grant! Thank you so much, and congratulations on having it included in this month's Criterion Newsletter (where I discovered it). I haven't read SCULPTING IN TIME in years, and it's a joy to reacquaint with it through your list. I also haven't read Tarkovsky's published diaries in a while, but I remember he discusses several films in that as well, including Cassavetes's THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE, which disappointed him. I do remember his descriptions of THE VIRGIN SPRING and CITY LIGHTS in SCULPTING. Hopefully those will join the Collection soon.
    • By Eric Levy
      March 28, 2013
      06:23 AM

      Oops. THE VIRGIN SPRING is a Criterion title. Am I remembering right that it's discussed in the book?
  • By Shiladitya Biswas
    May 23, 2013
    02:40 PM

    You can find the list in wikipedia.
  • By Liam Molenda
    May 23, 2013
    03:25 PM

    Andrei Rubiev Blu-Ray, and Stalker!? Please?
    • By M_Hulot
      July 17, 2013
      05:00 AM

      I second that!
  • By Kammundi
    May 23, 2013
    03:31 PM

    No one has ever echoed as many of my favorites as what appears in this list. It is little wonder I also love Tarkovsky's films.
  • By TheDirector
    May 23, 2013
    08:42 PM

    I cannot help but wonder if cinema can indeed be taken too seriously. Hard to say. By no means do I disrespect Tarkovsky, regardless of my response to his work. There's just something endearing about the way John Ford trivializes his cinema. Fantastic list, nonetheless.
  • By Humbuggery
    May 23, 2013
    10:37 PM

    Stellar list! And yes, the world needs Andrei Rublev on Blu-Ray... and 4K.
  • By futurestar
    May 23, 2013
    10:39 PM

    knowing all these films very well you have amassed an incredible list that may rank in best of ever catagory. every film here is as good as it gets. thanks for you well thought out and execution of for the all of us and high praises to those that made them. totally awesome.
  • By Daniel W.
    May 30, 2013
    05:55 PM

    Every Tarkovsky film needs a criterion blu ray. Especially Andrei Rublev. Criterion needs more Tarkovsky!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • By Gord
    June 03, 2013
    12:53 AM

    These over-the-top comments make me sick. The list & quotes are Tarkovsky's. What did this guy do? He may as well have simply given the page numbers and left it at that.
    • By Grant Douglas Bromley
      June 04, 2013
      10:35 AM

      I'm surprised by the reaction as well. Personally, Tarkovsky's words (and the book that he wrote) are basically holy scripture to me and I'm glad that people seem to adore Tarkovsky's insight as much as I do. If you want the page numbers, I'll give them to you.
    May 27, 2014
    10:18 AM

    This is a great list !!!! Very informative and interesting. I really hope to see mirror and the rest of his films released on criterion soon. I especially liked what he had to say about Bresson's films .