Sharunas Bartas

Sharunas Bartas 
(1964-)

Lithuanian film director, one of the most outstanding representatives of cinematographers. His contacts with cinema began in 1985 with the TV serial “Sixteen-years-olds” (dir. Raimondas Banionis), where Bartas played one of the main roles. He is a graduate of the Moscow Film School (VGIK). He made his directorial debut with his diploma film, the short documentary “Tofolaria” and mediocre-length film (which called spectators’ attention) “For the Remembrance of Last Day” (1989), where the real personages are “acting themselves” according to the principles of feature film. The author further “purified” the specific cinema language in the full-length film “Three Days” (1991), which was awarded the prize of oicumene committee at Berlin Film Festival (for the problems, the importance of the theme, the profundity) in 1992, and FIPRESCI Prize for the originality of the style, the significance of the theme, the beauty of pictures. This is a story (almost without plot) about three young Lithuanians visiting Kaliningrad-Karaliautchus-Kionigsberg – a moribund, outraged town. The traditional dramaturgy is ignored in later Bartas’ films, as well: “The Corridor” (1994, it was shown at Berlin Film Festival), “Few of Us ” (1995, shown in Cannes, in the program “Other Point”), “Home” (1997, shown in the same program in Cannes). All of them are works of free structure, minimalistic form, philosophical associations. The works of Bartas are not well-known and analysed in Lithuania, but they have a small, faithful round of admirers in the West. (Bio Courtesy: The Auteurs, Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

 

Lithuanian auteur Sharunas Bartas is the kind of filmmaker one would immediately be tempted to label “pretentious” and “self-indulgent” because there is absolutely no concession whatsoever that he gives to the viewers in terms of the narrative, artistic, political and personal ambitions of his films, burying them deeply within their part-hyper real and part-surreal constructs. All his films have hinged themselves onto a particular moment in Lithuanian history – the nation’s independence from the USSR, just prior to the latter’s complete collapse – and they all deal with the loss of communication, the seeming impossibility of true love to flourish and the sense of pointlessness that the political separation has imparted to its people. The characters in Bartas’ films are ones that attempt in vain to put the dreadful past behind them, traverse through the difficult present and get onto a future that may or may not exist. With communication having been deemed useless, they hardly speak anything and, even if they do, the talk is restricted to banal everyday expressions.  Consequently, Bartas’ films have little or no dialog and rely almost entirely on Bressonian sound design consisting mostly of natural sounds. Also Bresson-like is the acting in the films. There are no expressions conveyed by the actors, no giveaway gestures and no easy outlet for emotions.

The outdoor spaces are deep and vast in Bartas’ films while the indoors are dark, decrepit and decaying. The landscapes, desolate, usually glacial, nearly boundless and seemingly inhospitable, are almost always used as metaphors for a larger scheme. His compositions are often diagonal, dimly lit and simultaneously embody static and dynamic components within a single frame. Interestingly, his editing is large Eisensteinian and he keeps juxtaposing people, their faces and landscapes throughout his filmography. But since the individual images themselves possess much ambiguity of meaning, the sequences retains their own, thereby overcoming the limitations of associative montage. Another eccentric facet in Bartas’ work is the amazing amount of critters found in his films. There are puppies, kitten, frogs, seagulls and flies seen around and over his characters regularly. May be, not considering the specific connotations that these creatures bring to these scenes, the intention is Eisensteinian here too – to indicate that the characters have been reduced to a level lower than these beings, unable to either communicate with each other or be at peace with nature, devoid of the notions of nationality and politics.

In many ways, the cinema of Bartas stands in between that of Andrei Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr – both filmmakers concerned with chronicling life in a communist state. While the childhood memories, existential crisis and spiritual yearning in Bartas films directly has its roots in Tarkovsky’s films (all the films starting from The Mirror (1975)), the visual (dancing in entrapping circles, meaningless glances and chatter over banquets and eventual self-destruction of the drifting characters) and aural (the Mihály Vig-like loopy and creepy score consisting of accordions, accentuated ambient noise) motifs, stark cinematography and political exploration are reminiscent of Bartas’ Hungarian contemporary. But, more importantly, it is the attitude towards his characters that puts him right in midpoint between Tarr and Tarkovsky. Bartas’ work has so far been characterized by two impulses – a warm nostalgia and sympathy for his characters that betrays the director’s hope and love for them, as in Tarkovsky’s cinema, and an overpowering cynicism, clearly derived from the (post-neo-realist) films of Tarr, that keeps remarking how the characters are all doomed and done for. This (unbalanced) dialectic is evident in Bartas aesthetic itself, which employs copious amounts of extremely long shots and suffocating close-ups. In the former, characters are seen walking from near the camera and into the screen, gradually becoming point objects eaten up by the landscape while, in the latter, Bartas films every line and texture of their faces with utmost intensity in a way that obviously shows that he cares for them and the pain that they might be experiencing. This conversation between optimism and pessimism towards his people also places him alongside the Armenian filmmaker Artavazd Peleshian – another historian of traumatized lives in a Soviet state before and after independence.

 

Praejusios Dienos Atminimui (In Memory Of The Day Passed By, 1990)

In Memory of the Day Passed ByOne of the finest films by Sharunas Bartas, In Memory of the Day Passed By (1990) is a somber, evocative mood piece set in post-independence Lithuania and opens with the image of large flakes of snow moving slowly along a river. This is followed by a shot of a woman and her kid walking on a vast, snowy plain and moving away from the viewer until they become nonentities assimilated by their landscape. This pair of shots provides a very good synopsis of what Bartas’ cinema is all about. The rest of the film presents us vignettes from the daily life of the people living in the unnamed city, possibly Vilnius, and from the garbage dump outside it. One of them presents a tramp-like puppeteer wandering the streets of the city without any apparent destination. Like the puppet that he holds, the people around him seem as if their purpose of living has been nullified, now that the national strings that had held and manipulated them so far have been severed. Consequently, there are many shots that deal with religion and the intense Faith that these people seem to be having, perhaps suggesting a yearning for the replacement of a superior power that guides them. Bartas suffuses the film with diagonal compositions indicative of a fallen world – a world that can go nowhere but the abyss. Appropriately, the film closes with a variation of its opening image: flakes of snow flowing downriver – an apt metaphor for the many nations that would drift without a base after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Trys Dienos (Three Days, 1991)

Three DaysThree Days (1991), Bartas’ maiden feature length work, unfolds in a harbor town in Lithuania where two men and a women search for a shelter in the largely uncaring place, possibly to make love. The first Bartas film to feature his would-be collaborator (and muse) Yekaterina Golubeva, Three Days plays out as a post-apocalyptic tale set in an industrial wasteland, complete with decrepit structures and murky waters, where both positive communication (Even the meager amount of dialogue in the film turns out to be purely functional) and meaningful relationships (Almost everyone in the film seems to be a vagrant) have been rendered irrelevant. Every person in this desolate land seems to be an individual island, stuck at a particular time in history forever. The visual palette (akin to the bleached out scheme of the director’s previous work) is dominated by earthy colours, especially brown, and the production design is highly redolent of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). The actors are all Bressonian here and do no more than move about in seemingly random directions and perform mundane, everyday actions. Like in Bresson’s films, there is no psychological inquiry into the characters’ behaviour and yet there is much pathos and poignancy that is developed thanks to the austerity of Bartas’ direction and the intensity of Vladas Naudzius’ cinematography. The film is titled Three Days, but it could well have been titled ‘three months’, ‘three years’ or even ‘eternity’ for, in the film, all time is one, the notion of future nonextant and hope for escape futile.

Koridorius (The Corridor, 1994)

The CorridorIf Three Days presented people stuck in time and moving aimlessly through desolate landscapes, The Corridor (1994) gives us ones stuck geographically and drifting through abstract time. Bartas’ most opaque and affecting film to date, The Corridor is a moody, meditative essay set at a time just after the independence of Lithuania from the USSR and in a claustrophobic apartment somewhere in Vilnius in which the titular corridor forms the zone through which the residents of the building must pass in order to meet each other. Extremely well shot in harsh monochrome, the interiors of the apartment resemble some sort of a void, a limbo for lost souls if you will, from which there seems to be no way out. Consisting mostly of evocatively lit, melancholy faces that seem like waiting for a miracle to take them out of this suffocating space, The Corridor also presents sequences shot in cinema vérité fashion where we see the residents drinking and dancing in the common kitchen. Of course, there is also the typical central character, played by Sharunas Bartas himself, who seems to be unable to partake in the merriment. Conventional chronology is ruptured and reality and memory merge as Bartas cuts back and forth between the adolescent chronicles of the protagonist, marked by rebellion and sexual awakening, and his present entrapped self, unable to comprehend what this new found ‘freedom’ means. Essentially an elegy about the loss of a sense of ‘being’ and ‘purpose’, The Corridor remains an important film that earns a spot alongside seminal and thematically kindred works such as Paradjanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1968) and Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975).

Few Of Us (1996)

Few of UsFew of Us (1996) is perhaps the least political of the already highly noncommittal works of Sharunas Bartas. Not that this film does not base itself strongly on the political situation in Lithuania, but that the now-intimate backdrop of independent Lithuania is transposed onto a remote foothill in Siberia where a tribe called the Tolofars maintains a spartan life style. It is into this rugged, almost otherworldly land that the beautiful protagonist of the film (Yekaterina Golubeva) is air-dropped like an angel being relegated to the netherworld. She seems as isolated from the people of this land as the Tolofars are from the rest of the world. However, as indicated by the incessant cross cutting between the worn out terrain of the village and the contours on Golubeva’s face, this mysterious, hostile and unforgiving landscape is as much a protagonist of Bartas’ film as Golubeva is. With an eye for small and intricate changes in seasons, terrains and time of the day comparable to that of James Benning, Bartas pushes his own envelope as he lingers on eyes, faces and landscapes for seemingly interminable stretches of time. Each image of the film carries with itself an air of a still paining, vaguely familiar. All this sure does bring to surface the experimental and, I daresay, self-conscious nature of Bartas’ work, but what it also does is familiarize us with the hitherto alien and draw connection between this abstract representation of protagonist’s cultural disconnection in Tolofaria and the typical Bartas territory of desolate, directionless lives lead by the people of post-Soviet Lithuania.

A Casa (The House, 1997)

The HouseThe House (1997) opens to the image of a mansion as the narrator reads a confessional letter written to his mother about their inability to communicate with each other. The house and mother are, of course, metaphors for the motherland that would be explored in the two hours that follow. It seems to me that The House is the film that Bartas finally comes to terms with the trauma dealt by the country’s recent past that he has consistently expressed in his work. Consequently, the film also seems like a summation of the director’s previous films (One could say that the characters from Bartas’ previous films reprise their roles here) and a melting pot of all the Tarkovsky influences that have characterized his work (especially the last four fictional works of the Russian). Shot almost entirely indoors, The House follows a young man carrying a pile of books as me moves from one room of the Marienbad-like mansion to the other, meeting various men and women, none of whom speak to each other and who might be real people of flesh and blood, shards of memory or figments of fantasy. The house itself might be an abstract space, as in The Corridor, representing the protagonist’s mind with its spatial configuration disoriented like the chessboard in the film. Furthermore, one also gets the feeling that Bartas is attempting to resolve the question of theory versus practice – cold cynicism versus warm optimism – with regards to his politics as we witness the protagonist finally burn the books, page by page, he had so far held tightly to his chest.

Freedom (2000)

FreedomSharunas Bartas’ chef-d’oeuvre and his most accessible work to date, Freedom (2000) is also one of the most pertinent films of the past decade. Taking off from the wandering trio setup of Three Days, Freedom begins with a chase scene right out of genre cinema transposed onto Bartas’ highly de-dramatized canvas. The two men and women seem to be illegal immigrants who are on the coast guard’s wanted list. If The House was national politics distilled into a claustrophobic setting, Freedom is the same being set in seemingly limitless open spaces. The most rigorous of all Bartas films, Freedom is the kind of film Tarkovsky might have made had he lived to see the new century. Like the Russian’s characters, the people in this film are all marginal characters (and are often aptly pushed from the centre of the frame towards its margins) who want to escape the oppressive, unfair politics of this world and become one with nature and the unassailable peace it seems to possess. Alas, like in Blissfully Yours (2002), they are unable to depoliticize their world and start anew. The tyrannical past is catching up with them, the present is at a stalemate and is rotting and there is no sight of the future anywhere. Bartas expands the scope of his usual investigation and deals with a plethora of themes including the artificiality and fickleness of national boundaries, the barriers that lingual and geographical differences create between people and the ultimate impermanence of these barriers and the people affected by it in this visually breathtaking masterwork.

Septyni Nematomi Zmones (Seven Invisible Men, 2005)

Seven Invisible MenThe most unusual of all Bartas films, the pre-apocalyptic Seven Invisible Men (2005) starts off like a genre movie – a bunch of robbers trying to evade the police after stealing and selling off a car. It is only after about half an hour, when one of them arrives at a farm that is near completely severed from the rest of the world, that the film moves into the world of Bartas. Seven Invisible Men is the most talkative, most rapidly edited and the most politically concrete of all the films by the director and that may precisely be the idea – to serve as a counterpoint to all the previous movies. All though there is too much talk in the film, rarely do they amount to meaningful conversations, bringing the characters back to the hopelessness of the director’s earlier works.  Like Freedom, all the characters here are people living on the fringes of the society – con men and ethnic and religious minorities – who seem to have sequestered themselves with this settlement of theirs. All these characters seem to be trying to escape their agonizing past and the politics of the world that seems to give them no leeway in order to start afresh (The heist may have been the last attempt at escape), in vain. In the final few minutes that recall Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986), we see the house, in which the characters have been living in, burn down to dust. But, unlike Tarkovsky, it is Bartas’ cynicism that overwhelms and he sees his characters as ultimately self-destructive beings that have lost all control of their lives and hope for a better future.

Indigène d’Eurasie (Eastern Drift, 2010)

Eastern DriftThe trajectory of Bartas’ filmography, in a sense, runs anti-parallel to that of Béla Tarr, with whom the former shares a number of artistic, political and philosophical inclinations, and has moved from extreme stylization to rough-hewn naturalism, from near-total narrative abstraction to flirtation with generic structures, from semi-autobiographical meditations set against the backdrop of Soviet collapse to highly materialist tales of marginal lives in the Eurozone. (In fact, one could say that the exact tipping point occurs at Freedom.) Eastern Drift finds the filmmaker moving one step closer to conventional aesthetic as well as dramatic construction and follows Gena (Bartas himself), who is on the run after he knocks off his Russian boss after an altercation over a hefty sum of money. Even though the film has the appearance of a Euro-thriller, with the protagonist hopping from one major city of the continent to another, each of which regularly gets its token establishment shot (and all of which look very similar for the untrained eye), it actually moves against the grain the sub-genre. Unlike the traditional European action picture, in Eastern Drift movement – the prime action over which the narrative is founded – itself is problematized. A large part of the proceedings is made up of Gena trying to sneak in and out of buildings as well as countries and finding himself thwarted at almost every move. An antithesis to the utopianism of Eurozone and its myth of intra-continental mobility, Eastern Drift crystallizes and futhers Bartas’ preoccupation with suffocating national borders, although the scenario over which he builds his argument remains moot.

[“Children Lose Nothing” – Sharunas Bartas’ segment in Visions of Europe (2004)]

Katok I Skripka (1960) (aka The Steamroller And The Violin)
Andrei Tarkovsky
Russian

“He’s a musician.”

 

The Steamroller and the ViolinThere is no other way of seeing Andrei Tarkovsky’s diploma film Katok I Skripka (The Steamroller and the Violin, 1960) at VGIK other than as a scratchpad for a would-be master of cinema. As a result, one is only preoccupied with filtering out the Tarkovskian elements of the film from the rest and somehow hammering it to conform to his/her understanding of the director’s oeuvre. However, it must also be acknowledged that the movie is more rewarding if you are indeed familiar with the director’s work. Shot in no less than the prestigious Mosfilm studio, The Steamroller and the Violin is a little gem that is at times prophetic, at times contradictory and at times surprising, when one considers the films of Tarkovsky that were to follow. But one just cannot fail to note the unmistakable signature of the hand that made works such as Ivan’s Childhood (1962) and Andrei Rublev (1966) in this film.

The Steamroller and the Violin follows a day in the life of young Sasha (Igor Fomchenko) who learns violin at the local music school. Everyday, he has to sneak past the gang of local bullies that tries to rip him apart. On this fortunate day, he is, however, saved even after being caught by them, by a young worker named Sergei (Vladmir Zamansky), who is working at a construction site nearby. Sasha, then, proceeds towards the music school, stopping once at the window of a curio shop where he witnesses the city through images gathered on the mirrors placed there for sale. After getting berated during a music test for playing the violin according to his imagination and not sticking to the notes provided, Sasha returns to the streets to meet Sergei once more. Following this, Sasha embarks on a little adventure of sorts where he operates the steamroller, roams around the city with Sergei, witnesses an old building being razed down, plays violin for Sergei and even gets into a small fist with a boy bigger than him. Sergei, meanwhile, keeps ignoring a girl who tries to flirt with him. Sergei and Sasha also make plans to go to the movies that evening, but, alas, Sasha’s mother won’t let him go.

Despite the romantic nature of its script, The Steamroller and the Violin remains a neo-realist film. But its neo-realism is not of the confrontational kind driven forth dogmatically by the Italian theorists and filmmakers, but of the stylistic one championed by Bazin in his essays. The film’s realism lies in not committing itself to the study of the society (which it never does), but, rather, in the respect it has for the integrity of time and space of its world. Tarkovsky extensively employs deeply focused shots so that large chunks of action can unfold in a single, undivided unit of film. For Tarkovsky, this meant a step away from montage and hence, automatically, from the founding stones laid by film pioneers of his country. Although, later, he would master the art of non-division of a shot even if it called for Herculean perfection and risk, deep focus proves to be a very viable option for Tarkovsky, here, to let the audience choose key actions of a sequence without having to direct their attention artificially. Furthermore, with this freedom that he gives to his audience, a la Orson Welles, Tarkovsky is able to bathe the film with ambiguity, thus turning upside down both the technique and the intention of the dominant Soviet cinema of yesteryear.

The Steamroller and the ViolinI might be giving the impression that the film is far more revolutionary than it actually is, but it is difficult not to applaud Tarkovsky’s ideology of taking art away from political exploitation. His vision couldn’t possibly have crystallized if Stalin, who insisted that art be used only for activist purposes, with no margin for ambiguity in its message, was still ruling the USSR. For Stalin, the artist existed for the worker and never as an independent entity in the society. Everyone had to stick to the positions in the society they were given irrespective of what their choice was. In Tarkovsky’s film, Sasha is conditioned by his teacher to play his violin in the way she wants. His mother prevents him from going to the movie. Instead, he has to stay home to meet some guests (and probably play some classical piece for them). Sasha wants to drive the steamroller, he wants to play the violin like he wants it and he wants to go to the movie whenever he wants. But, unfortunately, he has to assume the role of an artist that he never wants to be.  Also, conversely, Sasha will never be able to replace the worker (and vise-versa). Nor will he be able to parry off his bullies like Sergei wants him to. All he can do, and with much satisfaction, is to play the violin for Sergei to make him happy for a few minutes.

Although Tarkovsky’s stance, here, regarding the role of the artist in a worker-oriented society remains open to interpretation, it is clear that he is appealing for an environment where art can stand on its own legs and eventually finds an independent voice. In other words, Tarkovsky seems to be wanting the evolution of an art form of whose universe the artist is the centre and in which his “inner demands” propel the work of art rather than socio-political policies – art to exist for its own sake. He succinctly puts it in his book Sculpting in Time:

“How wonderfully apposite is Tolstoy’s remark in his diary on March 21, 1858: ‘The political is not compatible with the artistic, because the former, in order to prove, has to be one-sided.’ Indeed! The artistic image cannot be one-sided: in order justly to be called truthful, it has to unite within itself dialectically contradictory phenomena.”

“It is obvious that art cannot teach anyone anything, since in four thousand years humanity has learnt nothing at all. We should long ago have become angels had we been capable of paying attention to the experience of art, and allowing ourselves to be changed in accordance with the ideals it expresses. It’s ridiculous to imagine that people can be taught to be good; any more than they can learn how to be faithful wives by following the ‘positive’ example of Pushkin’s Tatiana Larina. Art can only give food—a jolt—the occasion—for psychical experience.”

More so than the neo-realist films of Italy, Tarkovsky’s film is reluctant to succumb to the needs of a drama. For most part, The Steamroller and the Violin is a plotless film. There is no dramatic epicenter to the events that unfold in it. Causality vanishes and we merely witness episodic encounters between Sergei and Sasha taking place at various geographic locations. Events happen in the film not to progress a preformatted story line but because they, well, “happen”. Furthermore, unlike the neo-realist movies, there isn’t even an objective for our protagonists. All that Sasha and Sergei want are to spend the day together. There are no hurdles, no conflicts and no turning points or threats to this wish. And the camera (handled by director of photography Vadim Yusov, who would go on to film the next three Tarkovsky features) obliges them by simply documenting them along with their surroundings. What is nowadays cornered into terms like “dead time” is the very thing that Tarkovsky calls “life”. Again, he elucidates his staunch position against artificial standards of theatrical drama (even if backed by naturalism) in his book:

“I wanted to demonstrate how cinema is able to observe life, without interfering, crudely or obviously, with its continuity. For that is where I see the true poetic essence of cinema.”

“I find poetic links, the logic of poetry in cinema, extraordinarily pleasing. They seem to me perfectly appropriate to the potential of cinema as the most truthful and poetic of art forms. Certainly I am more at home with them than with traditional theatrical writing which links images through the linear, rigidly logical development of the plot.

That sort of fussily correct way of linking events usually involves arbitrarily forcing them into sequence in obedience to some abstract notion of order. And even when this is not so, even when the plot is governed by the characters, one finds that the links which hold it together rest on a facile interpretation of life’s complexities. But film material can be joined together in another way, which works above all to lay open the logic of a person’s thought. This is the rationale that will dictate the sequence of events, and the editing which forms them into a whole. The birth and development of thought are subject to laws of their own, and sometimes demand forms of expression which are quite different from the patterns of logical speculation. In my view poetic reasoning is closer to the laws by which thought develops, and thus to life itself, than is the logic of traditional drama. And yet it is the methods of classical drama which have been regarded as the only models, and which for years have defined the form in which dramatic conflict is expressed.”

Apart from the cinematography, what stands out technically in Tarkovsky’s film is the production design (by Savet Agoyan) which helps Tarkovsky, though being unusual for him, to use a slightly expressionistic mise en scène which should perhaps be deemed academically remarkable. The conservatory and Sasha’s house – the centers of restriction in the film – are allotted dark colours and are populated by rigid, oppressive furniture that seem to choke the frame, Even the cat at the conservatory is black and ominous. The only sign of life at that place seems to be the little girl.  On the other hand, the exteriors – where Sasha seems really happy to be – are unusually bright, with vibrant coloured vehicles (The red tractor seems to have become the Soviet symbol of sorts), clear skies and people with cheerfully coloured clothes. The interiors at Sasha’s and at the music school, again, are lit by small isolated beams of sunlight whereas the sun is up and shining whenever Sasha is out with Sergei. Even though Tarkovsky would never again make such cerebral use of his mise en scène (and also a few flashy techniques like the ones utilized during the building-demolition and the final dream scenes), it still remains praiseworthy for a student film – the kind of cinema that almost always retains its jittery and attention-gathering qualities.

The Steamroller and the ViolinPerhaps the most striking Tarkovsky trait apparent in The Steamroller and the Violin is the director’s use of water throughout the film. For a very large part, water seems to be present in every frame of the film. Tarkovsky floods the movie with images of water found in one form or the other in everyday life. For him, water wasn’t just a symbol or a token of life, it was life. For Tarkovsky, water’s reflective, meditative, serene, cleansing, cathartic and mystic qualities were nothing short of the magic of life itself. In this movie, however, his use of water, unusually, takes up the job of indicating free life, rather than being present for just what it is. Although one can argue that this strategy is close to becoming symbolism that Tarkovsky would later oppose, it is to be accepted that he has used it very efficiently. Throughout the film, we see water being employed to make a commentary on life in that particular environment. Water is seen flowing smoothly on the streets when Sasha and Sergei bond. The same water is forced and confined into water jugs in the conservatory and at Sasha’s home. Water appears in the purgative form of a rain during the quintessentially Soviet sequence in the film, where a building is brought down with a soundtrack marked by expressionist music. And water is seen in its softest form in a puddle gently continuing to reflect its surroundings, like it would in the director’s later movies, as Sasha and Sergei descend into a free-flowing small talk.

Additionally, there are many images and facets in The Steamroller and the Violin that one would also see in Tarkovsky’s films that were to follow. The basket of apples that the woman in the city drops takes us directly to the cart of apples in Ivan’s Childhood. The contemplative interior where Sergei and Sasha sit for lunch shows up in almost every subsequent Tarkovsky film.  The autobiographical aspect of the absence of the father figure and the presence of a strong and demanding mother in the movie is unmistakably Tarkovskian. The question about the role of the artist is a clear precursor to his masterwork Andrei Rublev. Although not blown to full scale, Tarkovsky’s elliptical editing, which would be stretched to the limits later, makes sure that superfluous actions are weeded out and the audience is left with the bare minimum to hold on to and develop into a whole. We see the bullies approach the violin with awe. But it would become our responsibility shortly to understand that these kids never actually wanted to harm the violin, but just to taunt the artist. We see Sasha give an apple to the little girl at the conservatory and that she eats it by the time Sasha leaves, but it is up to us to decide why she was reluctant in the first place.

“The method whereby the artist obliges the audience to build the separate parts into a whole, and to think on, further than has been stated, is the only one that puts the audience on a par with the artist in their perception of the film. And indeed from the point of view of mutual respect only that kind of reciprocity is worthy of artistic practice.”

Sátántangó (1994) (aka Satan’s Tango)
Béla Tarr
Hungarian

“They haven’t a clue that it is this idle passivity that leaves them at the mercy of what they fear most”

 

SatantangoSince the death of Andrei Tarkovsky, the search has been on for the heir to the throne he left behind. Many believed that his fellow countryman Alexander Sokurov would be the chosen one. Indeed, his films like Mother and Son (1997) and Russian Ark (2002), that disregarded montage in the same way as the Russian master, strike an immediate chord with viewers familiar with Tarkovsky’s works. But in a country a bit west to Russia, a Hungarian visionary called Béla Tarr had showed the world he had arrived, big time. In 1994, came out his long-cherished project – an epic by all measures – Sátántangó.

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Mirror

Though Andrei Tarkovsky’s canon consisted of only seven features, three student films, one documentary and a couple of stage plays and there were more unrealized projects than filmed ones, each of the ideas that were completed were gems and remain unparalleled to date. Looking back, each one seems hand picked and “sculpted” second by second and without doubt, the experience just improves with multiple viewings. Of course, Tarkovsky means different things to different people and the section just attempts to give a universal outline of the projects.

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Tarkovsky“My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”

Ingmar Bergman (1918 – 2007)

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