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 firstname.lastname@example.org