Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (Андре́й Арсе́ньевич Тарко́вский, April 4, 1932 – December 29, 1986) was a Soviet film director, writer, and theorist. His family had a literary background, and he studied art, music and language at school. But during the Great Patriotic War, his father was drafted and Andrei, his mother, and his sisters had to evacuate. He caught tuberculosis, recovered in a hospital, and later dropped out of university and decided to become a prospector. He was sent to Siberia and, in the wilderness there, discovered film.
Tarkovsky entered the State Institute of Cinematography after finishing his expedition in Siberia. By this time, Stalin had died and Khrushchev was opening up the Soviet Union, so Tarkovsky was able to see and study the films of such greats as Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa, influencing him to become an auteur. This openness also led him to explore many themes in his films, such as man's role in the world, dreams vs. reality, the nature of religion, morality and freedom of choice.
His films were controversial with Soviet authorities because Tarkovsky dared to ask these heavy questions instead of accepting their dogma. This gave his films extra credentials outside the Soviet Union, especially in the West, whose film critics gave high praise to each of his films. However, recognition at home would have to wait until after his 1986 death from cancer, which came just as Mikhail Gorbachev was opening the Soviet Union again. Tarkovsky was posthumously awarded the Lenin Prize in 1990, and the Russian government created the Andrei Tarkovsky Memorial Prize to award the country's most talented filmmakers.
- The Killers (1956) was Tarkovsky's first student film, based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway.
- There Will Be No Leave Today (1959) was his second student film, about soldiers trying to protect a small town by disposing of unexploded bombs. It is the least typical film for Tarkovsky, resembling a patriotic war film, but was played on Victory Day for a few years afterwards.
- The Steamroller and the Violin (1960) was his third and last student film, about the Intergenerational Friendship of a young boy and a steamroller operator.
- Ivan's Childhood (1962) or My Name Is Ivan was Tarkovsky's first feature film. Like The Cranes Are Flying or Ballad of a Soldier, this film explores the suffering and human cost of war as seen by Ivan, a 12-year-old boy in World War II occupied Russia. It was a commercial and critical success and gained Tarkovsky his first real fame as a director.
- Andrei Rublev (1966) is Tarkovsky's longest film, at 205 minutes, and is a Biopic of medieval Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev, focusing on his role in creating the Russian Christian identity. Its depictions of ancient religion and ambiguity about politics got this film censored for years. However, it was his first widely awarded film.
- Solaris (1972) was based on the book by Stanisław Lem about scientists on a mysterious planet who see images of people they remember from their lives on Earth. It was in wide release for many years, remains a seminal film in Soviet science fiction, and was famous enough in the West to be remade by Steven Soderbergh.
- The Mirror (1975) or Mirror was a loosely autobiographical film that Tarkovsky had been working on since 1964. It is told out of order and is a chronicle of the life and meditations of Alexei. This film did not have an official premiere but has since become better known and welcomed into the Tarkovsky oeuvre.
- Stalker (1979) was loosely based on the Strugatsky Brothers story Roadside Picnic, and in this film, the Stalker guides two people into the Room, which is said to be able to fulfill a person's innermost desire. This film continues many of the themes explored by Solaris and was one of the inspirations for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of video games.
- Voyage in Time (1982) was Tarkovsky's first "foreign" film and documented his collaboration with Tonino Guerra in preparation for...
- Nostalghia (1983), made in Italy, about a Russian writer who goes to Italy to research the life of a Russian composer who killed himself upon returning home. Along the way, the writer begins to feel nostalgia for Russia, befriends a madman, and begins reflecting upon himself.
- The Sacrifice (1986) or Offret was Tarkovsky's final film, made in Sweden. As the world dies in a nuclear holocaust, the writer Alexander promises to God he will sacrifice everything he loves if only God will save the world. It was Tarkovsky's homage to his peer and idol Ingmar Bergman. Shortly after finishing this film, Tarkovsky died.
Tropes about or used by Tarkovsky:
- Art Shift: Tarkovsky likes to switch between black-and-white and color, notably in Stalker (the town is in black and white, the Zone in color) and Andrei Rublev (the events are in black and white, the icons in color). He said this was because we do not really examine our surroundings and notice colors enough, and he wanted us to find the meaning in everything. Solaris also has shifts between color and greyscale, with greyscale being more contemplative.
- Author Avatar: Andrei Rublev in Andrei Rublev, Henri Berton in Solaris, Alexei in The Mirror, the Writer in Stalker, Andrei Gorchakov in Nostalghia, and Alexander in The Sacrifice.
- Badass Crew: The bomb squad in There Will Be No Leave Today.
- Contemplate Our Navels: A frequent criticism of Tarkovsky is that his films contain too much meditation and not enough action, but he preferred it this way, so that we really can think about what we are seeing and hearing.
- Creator Thumbprint: Lots of expansive, panning, cinematic shots. Also expect to see horses used with excessive Symbolism.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Even after Tarkovsky made the switch to primarily shooting in color after Andrei Rublev, monochrome sequences, as well as sepia, appear in "Solaris", "The Mirror" and "Stalker".
- Downer Ending: Ivan's Childhood, The Sacrifice, and, in a more meta sense, Tarkovsky's own life, as he died from cancer just before his works gained a real worldwide audience.
- Dr. Genericius: Sartorius.
- Driven to Suicide: Gibaryan and Hari in Solaris, Porcupine in Stalker.
- Fanservice: Alexei's mother in The Mirror takes a shower in full view of the camera, and in Solaris Hari's nipples poke through her shirt when she resurrects after taking the liquid oxygen. The latter case is kind of a Mood Whiplash, though, being in such an emotionally devastating scene.
- Gainax Ending: Some of his movies seem to end in this way, like for example The Mirror and Nostalghia. See also Mind Screw.
- Genius Loci: Solaris (a planet or rather planetary intelligence) and the Zone (a strange, secluded wilderness).
- Insufferable Genius: Tarkovsky comes off as one to people who are not already into film, especially since his attitude to the audience was almost confrontational.
- Journey to Find Oneself
- Leave the Camera Running: Tarkovsky loves holding a shot, sometimes for several minutes.
- Mind Screw: Too many to list here, as Tarkovsky practically makes a point of confusing the viewer.
- Minimalist Cast: He seemed to enjoy having a limited number of actors in his films.
- Mood Whiplash
- Mundane Made Awesome: The appeal of his films doesn't come from plot or suspense, but from mood and atmosphere, which can turn an otherwise ordinary moment into something epic.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: Bach's "Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ" in Solaris is used as Hari's theme. Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and Ravel's "Bolero" bookend Stalker. Bach appears again, three times, in The Mirror.
- Real Men Love Jesus: He was a very devout Russian Orthodox Christian and wrote down prayers in his diaries; they’re actually quite beautiful. The spiritual contents of his diaries clashed with the Soviet Union's atheistic ideology, leading the KGB to open a file on him.
- Scenery Porn: Nearly all his films, due to expert cinematography and direction, but standouts include the shots of the Zone in Stalker, lovingly rendered in full color, and the vast landscapes of Andrei Rublev.
- Getting Sven Nykvist to do the cinematography for The Sacrifice certainly wasn't a bad thing, what with his gorgeous set design, and use of bleach bypass and careful color timing.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: Tarkovsky built up his films slowly so that people who wanted action movies and other mindless fare would get out of the theater.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Stalker's wife explaining the development of their relationship.
- The Oner: A regular feature of his films consist of very long one camera shots.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Tarkovsky wants the audience to piece together his films, and relies on them knowing the references to other works, such as paintings, songs, books, poems, and even other films.