Monthly Archives: October 2016

  • The Sacrifice Andrei Tarkovsky (1986; Swe.)

    The Sacrifice Andrei
    Tarkovsky (1986; Swe.) Erland Josephson,
    Susan Fleetwood

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 16 Oct 2016; ticket £8.25

    time slips by

    If Nostalgia seemed to be Tarkovsky’s attempt to recreate himself in the West as Tarkovsky, the Sacrifice communicates as an attempt to recreate himself as Bergman type visionary. Both in Nostalgia and in the Sacrifice the defining truth content is spiritual angst. Whereas Nostalgia is centred about a vacuity of gesture, the Sacrifice centres about an intensity of gesture. Both gestures are prime subjectivities and point to the emptinesses filling out contemporary life. In themselves neither film is successful in expressing vision. Both films in their manner come across as re-active rather than proactive in response to the tyrannical shibboleths of Western middle class priviledged society.

    Bergman as filmmaker is motivated by an internalised self flailing that compels him to utter truth about life and relationships. Occasionally funny, but mostly hard honesty is the warp of his films which are often characterised by sparse barren psychically charged backgrounds against which Bergman, from a series of actors, conjured performances of ingrained honesty. The films could only work to the extent that his performers put their personal integrity in front of the camera. Performances were matched by scenarios that generally avoided shooting tricks and scripts that leaned towards the spare.

    Employing Bergman’s regular cameraman Nykvist and one of Bergman’s repertory players, Josephson in lead role, with the Swedish shore setting, and its note of spiritual angst, the Sacrifice has the look of a Bergman film. But Tarkovsky fails to use these elements in such a way as to own them himself. Despite the hall mark dazzling imagery and the complex choreographed shots the film is pulled back into sub-prime Bergman territory by a leaden script and lacklustre and uncommitted performances. The Sacrifice registers as nothing more than a simulation.

    Of course watching the Sacrifice with subtitles can make performance evaluation difficult – not so with Bergman’s films – but I felt the performances, in particular the female roles ( the male roles were not much better), were wooden and lacking sincerity. This feeling of detachment in the cast was compounded by the interior setting of the house and the costumes. The female attire, dresses, and in particular those of Adelaide, her daughter (but also the maids) conveyed a nineteenth century atmosphere to the extent the film sometimes felt as if it were in a Chekhov setting and situation. Perhaps it was Tarkovsky’s idea to meld social realist Chekhov with Bergman style psychic acuity?

    If so it doesn’t work. The Chekhovian elements, the isolation the domestic setting the stories told by the characters, lack Chekhov’s relational genius for tieing together family and social tension. The characters in the Sacrifice, are isolated entities with isolating stories. Alexander’s claim about his love for his son, little man, is something said rather than seen. Filmically if he loved ‘little man’ then perhaps little man should have died in the final holocaust. Perverse spiritual logic perhaps, but still a logic whose possibilities might have attracted a director/writer such as von Trier.

    And the Bergman elements fail at the first level of authenticity in performance. Perhaps it is language, directing his players in a foreign language (English probably); perhaps directing emotion in micro settings is not something that Tarkovsky was good at, perhaps happier in directing in epic works. The acting is stale and stays emotionally tethered in theatricality rather than cinema. Also the scripting and its realisation is critically lame. In particular there is the ‘witch’ sequence, where a conveniently incoherent Otto persuades Alexander to visit and screw Maria, the maid, whom claims Otto, is a white witch. The whole scripting is a dog’s dinner of implausibility, and that would be fine if the consequent action carried conviction. Again the feeling is that Bergman or von Trier as scenaricists would have contrived strong central scene between Alexander and Maria. Tarkovsky’s solution climaxes in a magico-realist shot of the two making love. Whether this shot is understood as dream or actual, the shot of the couple rising into mid-air and revolving round in space, seems meaningless, a desperately wrong solution. And for a film that is trying to combine Chekhov and Bergman there is no room for getting central imagery wrong..

    I think it is not enough to be a film maker. To make films outside the grounding of a society or culture is difficult. Images are not enough. Very few film makers are able to work outside their native milieus. Lang and other German émigrés were successful in Hollywood as was Hitchcock, but they were successful because they understood and accepted that to be American directors they had to learn how to be one part of the movie making studio machines rather than be auteurs. Recently the late Abbas Kairostami made at least one successful film as an émigré, Like Some one in Love, but his concerns were often in micro observation of individuals in situations, a focus easier perhaps to carry into exile.

    In his exile my feeling is that Andrei Tarkovsky never found voice, and remained just a fabricator of extraordinary film images that lacked clear unifying thematic purpose. adrin neatrour

  • Nostalgia Andrei Tarkovsky (Ussr; It. 1983)

    Nostalgia Andrei Tarkovsky (Ussr; It. 1983)
    Oleg Yankovsky, Domiziana Giordano

    viewed Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle 9 Oct 2016; ticket £8.75

    no pushing against

    Nostalgia was the first film made by Andrei Tarkovsky outside the Soviet Union. Having seen the complete set of recently remastered Soviet produced films, it is evident that Nostalgia is very different in quality from these films that preceded it.

    Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia is the film of a lost film maker, a film maker who has lost his energising force. In Nostalgia he is now creating images out of an unopposed subjectivity rather than making films that had an opposing subjectivity. Those films made in the Soviet Union have the quality of a pushing against the wall of a rigid ideology; Tarkovsky’s cinematic visionary language probing water as a psychic element, surface as an hallucination and time as an instability cohere as images directed as opposing concepts/metaphores. In Nostalgia’s scenario, there is no pushing against; rather there is an attraction, a pull towards visionary utterance that is detached from the gravitational pull of the social matrix. Tarkovsky’s cinematic language loses its coherence and becomes a scattered atomised set of images that inceasingly reflect the subjectivity of exile.

    Seeing Stalker Mirror and Solaris what is striking is that they are all films that have an intensely political dimension in so far as they comprise a sustained creative assault on the official Soviet ideological take on cosmology: that time moves foreword as a progressive dialectic and that there is only one correct way to understand history whether it be personal or social, and that is through the materialist philosophy. These rigid ideas are difficult to understand or comprehend today – though Islamic State have their own contemporary version of a preordained cosmology – but these ideas were the key underlying principles of the legitimacy of the Soviet state. These philosophical propositions underpinned, in so far as they justified and legitimised, the existence of the state and all actions of the state from the gulags to the development of nuclear weapons. The dialectical progress of history, one dimensional time.

    Tarkovsky’s movies blew a hole in this monolithic thinking and for that reason were allowed very limited distribution in the USSR. Tarkovsky’s heterodoxy is exemplified by the opening sequence in Mirror: Ignat turns on the TV, which is an exemplar of progressive forces and after the screen’s initial static and white noise the image resolves and we see a healing session where a middle aged woman medium cures a young boy of his stutter. The objective technology of the medium, TV, relays a message which is a subjectivity.

    Both Solaris and Mirror view time as a element that overwhelms us: objective time is a delusionary concept for the history books and Marxist philosophers. For Tarkovsky’s time is a non linear medium that haunts shapes us and confounds us: mothers elide into wives, men merge with the identity of their own fathers. We re-live and re-experience time as a force that guides the dead as well as the living. The dialectic is soul death; for Tarkovsky time is soul full. The cogency of Mirror and Solaris with their complex structures derives from Tarkovsky’s certainty about what he wanted to say. His marriage of compelling imagery, often composed as long in-camera takes, and temporal instabilities was possible because he was guided by an underlying implicit form that gave him certainty about what is was opposing with his subjectivity: a barren materialist ideological system.

    And this barrenness was acutely expressed in Stalker with its metaphorical journey through a toxic land towards a room where a wish would be granted – perhaps the final realisation of proletarian state. Stalker is a primed satire on the poisoned nature of the Soviet Union and its prime victim, individual vision. Most of the distinctively voiced film makers such as Bergman, Goddard, Bresson have one explosive idea that animates what they do. However brilliant their images, they are not just image makers: their images serve the greater idea. However wondrously shot and imaged, Nostalgia never attains anything more that a subjectivity in image. Through self exile with the loss of both his sustaining culture and his oppositional situation in the USSR, Nostalgia seems a lament to the pain of exile; beautiful personal but ultimately an indulgence.

    Many of the devices that characterise Nostalgia, in particular on the sound tracks, seem consciously borrowed from his earlier movies. The unending rhythmic footsteps that accompany everyone, the incessant water sounds creating an aqueous overwhelming water effect recall Stalker, as do the strange distant quasi industrial sounds that appear in many scenes (as in the shot in the narrow street with the mirrored wardrobe). Nostalgia seems also to share a large number of visual devices with Stalker: the camera’s love of patina texture and surface, the observation of water in all its multifarious still and moving forms (an enduring feature of Tarkovky’s vision) and the tracking shots. However in Stalker, the significant tracks were often shots that moved through or moved towards the object of search: forewards pushing shots. In Nostalgia the significant tracks tended to be sideways movements. One of the last sequences of Nostalgia comprises a long sideways epic tracking shot of the Andei fulfilling his promise to cross the pool with a lighted candle. After initial failure he succeeds, and immediately collapses. My feeling is that Tarkovsky as a filmmaker highly sensitised to his own state of mind, reflected in his use of lateral movement, his own self perception as a film maker in exile. He was no longer an artist going foreword he was an artist at this point deflecting to the side.

    In Nostalgia there is no opposing rather a lateral movement to those forces sidelined by society the holy fools the mad visionaries. But finding alliances in those declarations of universal love and brotherhood or in obscure subjective self imposed tasks lacks the imperative stricture of the previous opposing filmic statements. In making films for Gosfilm if Tarkovsky allied himself with the mad and the visionaries he would also by default oppose the determining ideology. Making such a film in the West falls into a vacuum at best, and at worst a vacuum contained by platitudes.

    In one dialogue Andrei is talking about St Catherine and her meeting with God who tells her: “You are she who is not.” A pointing of state of mind that seems to underlie the majestic final shot of Andrei by a pool that starts as a close up and pulls back to a huge wide shot that reveals him is a tiny figure in the ruins of an enormous arched cathedral. adrin neatrour