Andrei Tarkovsky: From Student to Auteur in “Ivan’s Childhood”

Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood" marks his transition from student to director, highlighting his artistic evolution and the challenges of adapting literature to film.
Ivan's Childhood

The completion of “Ivan’s Childhood” marked a significant transition in Tarkovsky’s life and career, concluding a cycle of cinematic self-determination through academic study, a short diploma film, and the creation of his first feature film. This period allowed him to crystallize his aesthetic stance in cinema, driven by a need to transcend mere intuition with coherent reasoning. “Ivan’s Childhood” was adapted from Bogomolov’s short story, whose structure and thematic clarity made it suitable for cinematic transformation, despite Tarkovsky’s reservations about its detached narrative style. The story’s focus on the intervals between war missions and the psychologically charged depiction of a young boy deeply affected by war presented an opportunity to infuse the prose with cinematic aesthetic intensity, thereby elevating the narrative’s emotional impact. This project was not only a creative endeavor but also a test of Tarkovsky’s capabilities as a director, reaffirming the necessity of a director’s vision in the filmmaking process to transform literature into a unique cinematic experience.

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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. But there is a certain danger in not having to reach final conclusions: it’s all too easy to be satisfied with glimmers of intuition, rather than sound, coherent reasoning.

The wish to avoid expending my reflections in such a way made it easier for me to take up pencil and paper.

What attracted me to Bogomolov’s3 short story, Ivan?

I have to say at the outset that not all prose can be transferred to the screen.

Some works have a wholeness, and are endowed with a precise and original literary image; characters are drawn in unfathomable depths; the composition has an extraordinary capacity for enchantment, and the book is indivisible; through the pages comes the astonishing, unique personality of the author: books like that are masterpieces, and only someone who is actually indifferent both to fine prose and to the cinema can conceive the urge to screen them.

It is all the more important to emphasise this point now, when the time has come for literature to be separated, once and for all, from cinema.

Other prose works are made by ideas, by clarity and firmness of structure, by originality of theme; such writing seems not to be concerned with the aesthetic development of the thought it contains. I think Bogomolov’s Ivan is in this category.

Purely artistically, I derived little joy from the detached, detailed, leisurely narrative with its lyrical digressions to bring out the character of the hero, Lieutenant Galtsev. Bogomolov attaches great importance to the accuracy of his record of army life and to the fact that he was, or tried to appear, a witness of all that happened in his story.

All this made it easier for me to see the work as prose that could readily be screened. Moreover, screening might give it that aesthetic intensity of feeling which would transform the idea of the story into a truth endorsed by life.

After I had read it, Bogomolov’s tale stuck in my mind; indeed, certain things in it impressed me deeply.

First there was the fate of the hero, which we follow right up to his death. Of course many other plots have been constructed in this way, but it is by no means always the case, as it is with Ivan, that the dénouement is inherent in the conception and comes about through its own inner necessity.

Here the hero’s death has a particular significance. At the point where, with other authors, there would have been a comforting follow-up, this story ends. Nothing follows. Usually in such situations an author will reward his hero for his military exploits. All that is hard and cruel recedes into the past. It turns out to have been merely a painful stage in his life.

In Bogomolov’s story, this stage, cut off by death, becomes the final and only one. Within it is concentrated the entire content of Ivan’s life, its tragic motive power. There is no room for anything else: that was the startling fact that made one unexpectedly and acutely aware of the monstrousness of war.

The next thing that struck me was the fact that this austere war tale was not about violent military clashes, or the ins and outs of reversals at the front. Accounts of exploits were missing. The stuff of the narrative was not the heroics of reconnaissance operations, but the interval between two missions. The author had charged this interval with a disturbing, pent-up intensity reminiscent of the cramped tension of a coiled spring that has been tightened to the limit.

This approach to the depiction of war was persuasive because of its hidden cinematic potential. It opened up possibilities for recreating in a new way the true atmosphere of war, with its hyper-tense nervous concentration, invisible on the surface of events but making itself felt like a rumbling beneath the ground.

A third thing moved me to the bottom of my heart: the personality of the young boy. He immediately struck me as a character that had been destroyed, shifted off its axis by the war. Something incalculable, indeed, all the attributes of childhood, had gone irretrievably out of his life. And the thing he had acquired, like an evil gift from the war, in place of what had been his own, was concentrated and heightened within him.

His character moved me by its intensely dramatic quality, which I found far more convincing than those personalities which are revealed in the gradual process of human development, through situations of conflict and clashes of principle.

In a non-developing, constant state of tension, passions reach the highest possible pitch, and manifest themselves more vividly and convincingly than in a gradual process of change. It is this predilection of mine that makes me so fond of Dostoievsky. For me the most interesting characters are outwardly static, but inwardly charged with energy by an overriding passion.

Ivan turned out to be a character of this kind. And when I read Bogomolov’s story these things took hold of my imagination.

However, that was as far as I could go with the author. The emotional texture of the story was alien to me. Events were related in a deliberately restrained style, almost in the tone of a report. I could not have transferred such a style to the screen, it would have been against my principles.

When a writer and a director have different aesthetic starting-points, compromise is impossible. It will destroy the very conception of the film. The film will not happen.

When such a conflict occurs there is only one way out: to transform the literary scenario into a new fabric, which at a certain stage in the making of the film will come to be called the shooting script. And in the course of work on this script, the author of the film (not of the script but of the film) is entitled to turn the literary scenario this way or that as he wants. All that matters is that his vision should be whole, and that every word of the script should be dear to him and have passed through his own creative experience. For among the piles of written pages, and the actors, and the places chosen for location, and even the most brilliant dialogue, and the artist’s sketches, there stands only one person: the director, and he alone, as the last filter in the creative process of film-making.

Whenever script writer and director are not the same person, therefore, we shall witness an insoluble contradiction—that is, of course, if they are artists of integrity. That was why I saw the content of the story merely as a possible basis, the vital essence of which would have to be reinterpreted in the light of my own vision of the finished film.

Here we come up against the question of how far a director is entitled to be a screen-writer. Some would categorically deny him the right ever to engage in script writing at all. Directors given to writing scenarios tend to be sharply criticised, even though it is obvious enough that some writers feel themselves to be further from the cinema than film directors. The implication of such an attitude is therefore somewhat bizarre: all writers are entitled to write screenplays, but no director is. He has meekly to accept the text offered him and cut it up to make it into a shooting script.

But to return to our theme: 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 was. 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 ot 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.

Through poetic connections feeling is heightened and the spectator is made more active. He becomes a participant in the process of discovering life, unsupported by ready-made deductions from the plot or ineluctable pointers by the author. 1 le has at his disposal only what helps to penetrate to the deeper meaning of the complex phenomena represented in front of him. Complexities of thought and poetic visions of the world do not have to be thrust into the framework of the patently obvious. The usual logic, that of linear sequentiality, is uncomfortably like the proof of a geometry theorem. As a method it is incomparably less fruitful artistically than the possibilities opened up by associative linking, which allows for an affective as well as a rational appraisal. And how wrong it is that the cinema makes so little use of the latter mode, which has so much to offer. It possesses an inner power which is concentrated within the image and comes across to the audience in the form of feelings, inducing tension in direct response to the author’s narrative logic.

When less than everything has been said about a subject, you can still think on further. The alternative is for the audience to be presented with a final deduction, for no effort on their part, and that is not what they need. What can it mean to them when they have not shared with the author the misery and joy of bringing an image into being?

There is another advantage in our approach. 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.

When I speak of poetry 1 am not thinking of it as a genre. Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality. So poetry becomes a philosophy to guide a man throughout his life. Think of the fate and character of an artist like Alexander Grin4, who when he was dying of hunger went off into the mountains with a home-made bow and arrow to shoot some sort of game. Relate that incident to the times the man was living in and the correlation will reveal the tragic figure of a dreamer.

Or the fate of Van Gogh.

Think of Prishvin5, whose very being emerges in the features of that Russian nature which he described so lovingly.

Think of Mandelstam, think of Pasternak, Chaplin, Dovzhenko6, Mizoguchi7, and you’ll realise what tremendous emotional power is carried by these exalted figures who soar above the earth, in whom the artist appears not just as an explorer of life, but as one who creates great spiritual treasures and that special beauty w’hich is subject only to poetry. Such an artist can discern the lines of the poetic design of being. He is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life.

Without such perception, even a work that purports to be true to life will seem artificially uniform and simplistic. An artist may achieve an outward illusion, a life-like effect, but that is not at all the same as examining life beneath the surface.

I think in fact that unless there is an organic link between the subjective impressions of the author and his objective representation of reality, he will not achieve even superficial credibility, let alone authenticity and inner truth.

You can play a scene with documentary precision, dress the characters correctly to the point of naturalism, have all the details exactly like real life, and the picture that emerges in consequence will still be nowhere near reality, it will seem utterly artificial, that is, not faithful to life, even though artificiality was precisely what the author was trying to avoid.

Curiously enough the label ‘artificial’ is applied in art to what unquestionably belongs to our ordinary, everyday perception of reality. The explanation is that the pattern of life is far more poetic than it is sometimes represented by the determined advocates of naturalism. So much, after all, remains in our thoughts and hearts as unrealised suggestion. Instead of attempting to capture these nuances, most unpretentious, ‘true-to-life’ films not only ignore them but make a point of using sharp, overstated images which at best can only make the picture seem far-fetched. And I am all for cinema being as close as possible to life—even if on occasion we have failed to see how beautiful life really is.

At the beginning of this chapter I said I was glad to see signs of a watershed forming between cinema and literature, which both exercise such a strong and beneficial influence on each other. As it develops, the cinema will, I think, move further away not only from literature but also from other adjacent art forms, and thus become more and more autonomous. The process is less rapid than one might wish; it is long drawn out, and the tempo is not constant. That explains why the cinema still retains some principles proper to other art forms, on which directors often base themselves when making a film. Gradually these principles have come to act as a brake on cinema, as an obstacle to its realising its own specific character. One result is that cinema then loses something of its capacity for incarnating reality directly and by its own means, as opposed to transmuting life with the help of literature, painting or theatre.

This can be seen for instance in the influence brought to bear on cinema by the visual arts when attempts are made to transfer this or that canvas to the screen. For the most part, isolated principles are transposed, and whether these are of composition or of colour, the artistic realisation will not be that of an original, independent creation: it can only be derivative.

Trying to adapt the features of other art forms to the screen will always deprive the film of what is distinctively cinematic, and make it harder to handle the material in a way that makes use of the powerful resources of cinema as an art in its own right. But above all such a procedure sets up a barrier between the author of the film and life. Methods established by the older art forms interpose themselves. It specifically prevents life from being recreated in the cinema as a person feels it and sees it: in other words, authentically.

We’ve come to the end of the day: let us say that in the course of that day something important has happened, something significant, the sort of thing that could be the inspiration for a film, that has the makings of a conflict of ideas that could become a picture. But how did this day imprint itself on our memory?

As something amorphous, vague, with no skeleton or schema. Like a cloud. And only the central event of that day has become concentrated, like a detailed report, lucid in meaning and clearly defined. Against the background of the rest of the day, that event stands out like a tree in the mist. (Of course the comparison is not quite exact, because what I’ve called mist and cloud arc not homogeneous.) Isolated impressions of the day have set off impulses within us, evoked associations; objects and circumstances have stayed in our memory, but with no sharply defined contours, incomplete, apparently fortuitous. Can these impressions of life be conveyed through film? They undoubtedly can; indeed it is the especial virtue of cinema, as the most realistic of the arts, to be the means of such communication.

Of course such reproduction of real-life sensations is not an end in itself: but it can be given meaning aesthetically, and so become a medium for deep and serious thought.

To be faithful to life, intrinsically truthful, a work has for me to be at once an exact factual account and a true communication of feelings.

You were walking along the street and your eyes met those of someone who went past you. There was something startling in his look, it gave you a feeling of apprehension. He influenced you psychologically, put you in a certain frame of mind.

If all you do is reproduce the conditions of that meeting with mechanical accuracy, dressing the actors and choosing the spot for shooting with documentary precision, you still won’t achieve the same sensation from the film sequence as you had from the meeting itself. For when you filmed the scene of the meeting you ignored the psychological factor, your own mental state which caused the stranger’s look to affect you with that particular emotion. And so for the stranger’s look to startle the audience as it did you at the time, you have to prepare for it by building up a mood similar to your own at the moment of the actual meeting.

This means additional work by the director and additional script material.

A vast number of cliches and commonplaces, nurtured by centuries of theatre, have unfortunately also found a resting-place in the cinema. I commented earlier on drama and the logic of film narrative. To be more specific, and to clarify exactly what I mean, it’s worth looking for a moment at the concept of mise en scène; because I think it is in the handling of mise en scène that an arid, formal approach to the problem of expression and expressiveness is most obvious. And if we set ourselves the task of comparing mise en scène in film and in the vision of the writer, a few’ examples will be sufficient to show how formalism affects the film set.

People tend to think that an effective mise en scène is simply one that expresses the idea, the point, of the scene and its subtext. (Eisenstein himself was a protagonist of this view.) That is supposed to ensure that the scene will be given the depths that the meaning requires.

Such an attitude is simplistic. It has given rise to a good many irrelevant conventions which do violence to the living texture of the artistic image.

As we know, mise en scène is a design made up of the disposition of the actors in relation to each other and to the setting. In real life we can be struck by the way an episode takes on a ‘mise en scène’ which makes for the utmost expressiveness. On seeing it we might exclaim with delight, ‘You couldn’t think of that if you tried!’ What is it that we find so arresting? The incongruity of the ‘composition’ in relation to what is happening. It is in fact the absurdity of the mise en scène that catches our imagination; but this absurdity is only apparent. It covers something of great significance which gives the mise en scène that quality of absolute conviction which makes us believe in the event.

The point is that it is no good by-passing the difficulties and bringing everything down to a simplistic level; therefore it is crucial that mise en scène, rather than illustrating some idea, should follow life—the personalities of the characters and their psychological state. Its purpose must not be reduced to elaborating on the meaning of a conversation or an action. Its function is to startle us with the authenticity of the actions and the beauty and depths of the artistic images—not by obtrusive illustration of their meaning. As is so often the case, undue emphasis on ideas can only restrict the spectator’s imagination, forming a kind of thought ceiling beyond which there yawns a vacuum. It doesn’t safeguard the frontiers of thought, it simply makes it harder to penetrate into its depths.

Examples are not hard to find. One only has to think of the endless fences, railings and lattices that separate lovers. Another heavy-handed variation is the monumental clanging panorama of a huge building site, the mission of which is to bring some erring egotist back to his senses and imbue him with a love of labour and the working class. No mise en scène has the right to be repeated, just as no two personalities are ever the same. As soon as a mise en scène turns into a sign, a cliche, a concept (however original it may be), then the whole thing—characters, situations, psychology—become schematic and false.

Look at the finale of Dostoievsky’s The Idiot. What overwhelming truth in the characters and circumstances! As Rogozhin and Myshkin, their knees touching, sit there on chairs in that enormous room, they astound us by the combination of an outwardly absurd and senseless mise en scène with the perfect veracity of their own inner state. The refusal to weigh the scene down with obtrusive thoughts is what makes it as compelling as life itself. Yet how readily a mise en scène constructed without any obvious idea is regarded as formalistic.

Often the director himself is so determined to be portentous that he loses all sense of measure and will ignore the true meaning of a human action, turning it into a vessel for the idea he wants to emphasise. But one has to observe life at first hand, not to make do with the banalities of a hollow counterfeit constructed for the sake of ^acting and of screen expressiveness. I think the truth of these remarks would be borne out if we were to ask our friends to tell us, for instance, of deaths which they themselves have witnessed: I’m sure we should be amazed by the details of those scenes, by the individual reactions of the people concerned, above all by the incongruity of it all—and, if I may use such an inappropriate term, by the expressiveness of those deaths.

My private polemic with the pseudo-expressive mise en scène made me think of two incidents I’ve been told about. They could not have been made up, they are truth itself—which distinguishes them sharply from what is known as ‘thinking in images’.

A group of soldiers is being shot for treason in front of the ranks. They are waiting among the puddles by a hospital wall. It’s autumn. They are ordered to take off their coats and boots. One of them spends a long time walking about among the puddles, in his socks which are full of holes, looking for a dry place to put down the coat and boots which a minute later he will no longer need.

Again. A man is run over by a tram and has his leg cut off. They prop him up against the wall of a house and he sits there, under the shameless gaze of a gawping crowd, and waits for the ambulance to arrive. Suddenly he can’t bear it any longer, takes a handkerchief out of his pocket, and lays it over the stump of his leg.

Expressive, indeed.

Of course it’s not a question of collecting real incidents of that kind as it were against a rainy day. What we are talking about is being faithful to the truth of the characters and circumstances rather than to the superficial appeal of an interpretation in ‘images’. Unfortunately further difficulties tend to arise in any theoretical discussion in this area because of the abundance of terms and labels which serve merely to obscure the meaning of what is said and compound confusion on the theoretical front.

The true artistic image is always based on an organic link between idea and form. Indeed, any imbalance between form and concept will preclude the creation of an artistic image, for the work will remain outside the realm of art.

I did not start making Ivan’s Childhood with any of these ideas in mind. They developed as a result of working on the film. And much that is clear to me now still lay far ahead of me at the time I began filming.

Of course, my point of view is subjective. But that is how it has to be in art: in his work the artist breaks down reality in the prism of his perception and uses a foreshortening technique of his own to show different sides of reality. In setting great store by the subjective view of the artist and his personal perception of the world, however, I am not making a plea for an arbitrary or anarchic approach. It is a question of world view, of ideals and moral ends.

Masterpieces are born of the artist’s struggle to express his ethical ideals. Indeed, his concepts and his sensibilities are informed by those ideals. If he loves life, has an overwhelming need to know it, change it, try to make it better, — in short, if he aims to cooperate in enhancing the value of life, then there is no danger in the fact that the picture of reality will have passed through a filter of his subjective concepts, through his states of mind. For his work will always be a spiritual endeavour which aspires to make man more perfect: an image of the world that captivates us by its harmony of feeling and thought, its nobility and restraint.

As I see it then, if you stand on firm moral ground there is no need to shy away from greater freedom in your choice of means. Moreover, that freedom need not necessarily be restricted to a clear plan which obliges you to choose between certain methods. You also have to be able to trust solutions which present themselves spontaneously. Obviously it is important that these should not put the audience off by being overcomplex. This, however, is not something to be gauged by deliberations about what devices to ban or allow in your film, but through the experience gained by looking at the excesses that found their way into your early productions and which have to be eliminated naturally as your work proceeds.

To be honest, in making my first film I had another objective: to establish whether or not I had it in me to be a director. In order to come to a definite conclusion I left the reins slack, as it were. I tried not to hold myself back. If the film turns out well, I thought, then I’ll have the right to work in the cinema. Ivan’s Childhood was therefore specially important. It was my qualifying examination.

All this is not to say that I made the film as a kind of unstructured exercise, merely that I tried not to hold myself back. I found myself having to rely on my own taste and have faith in the competence of my aesthetic choices. On the basis of making the film I had to establish what I could count upon in future work, and what would not stand the test.

Now, of course, I hold different views on many things. Afterwards it became clear that little of what I discovered actually had life in it, and I have since abandoned many of the conclusions I reached then.

While we were making the film it was instructive for us, the participants, to work out the stylistic texture of the sets, of the landscape, transmuting the non-dialogue sections of the script into the specific locale of scenes and episodes. Bogomolov describes the settings with the enviable thoroughness of one who witnessed the events which form the basis for the story. The author’s one guiding principle was the detailed reconstruction of all the places, as if he had seen them with his own eyes.

The result seemed to me fragmented and lifeless: bushes on the enemy-occupied bank; Galtsev’s dug-out with its dark lines of beams, and, identical to it, the battalion first aid post; the dreary front line drawn up along the river bank; the trenches. All these places are described with great precision, but not only did they arouse no aesthetic feelings in me, they were somehow’ uncongenial. These surroundings were not such as to awake emotions appropriate to the whole story of Ivan as I pictured it. I felt all the time that for the film to be a success the texture of the scenery and the landscapes must fill me with definite memories and poetic associations. Now, more than twenty years later, I am firmly convinced of one thing (not that it can be analysed): that if an author is moved by the landscape chosen, if it brings back memories to him and suggests associations, even subjective ones, then this will in turn affect the audience with particular excitement. Episodes redolent of the author’s own mood include the birch wood, the camouflage of birch branches on the first aid post, and the landscape in the background of the last dream and the flooded dead forest.

All four dreams, too, are based on quite specific associations. The first, for instance, from start to finish, right up to the words, ‘Mum, there’s a cuckoo!’ is one of my earliest childhood recollections. It was at the time when I was just beginning to know the world. I was four.

Generally people’s memories are precious to them. It is no accident that they are coloured by poetry. The most beautiful memories are those of childhood. Of course memory has to be worked upon before it can become the basis of an artistic reconstruction of the past; and here it is important not to lose the particular emotional atmosphere without which a memory evoked in every detail merely gives rise to a bitter feeling of disappointment. There’s an enormous difference, after all, between the way you remember the house in which you were born and which you haven’t seen for years, and the actual sight of the house after a prolonged absence. Usually the poetry of the memory is destroyed by confrontation with its origin.

It occurred to me then, that from these properties of memory a new working principle could be developed, on which an extraordinarily interesting film might be built. Outwardly the pattern of events, of the hero’s actions and behaviour, would be disturbed. It would be the story of his thoughts, his memories and dreams. And then, without his appearing at all—at least in the accepted sense of the traditionally written film — it would be possible to achieve something highly significant: the expression, the portrayal, of the hero’s individual personality, and the revelation of his interior world. Somewhere here there is an echo of the image of the lyrical hero incarnate in literature, and of course in poetry; he is absent from view, but what he thinks, how he thinks, and what he thinks about build up a graphic and clearly-defined picture of him. This subsequently became the starting-point of Mirror.

The way to this poetic logic, however, is fraught with adversity. Opposition awaits you at every turn, despite the fact that the principle in question is quite as legitimate as that of the logic of literature or dramaturgy; it is simply that a different component becomes the main element in the construction. One is reminded here of that sad dictum of Hermann Hesse: ‘A poet is something you are allowed to be, but not allowed to become.’ How true!

Working on Ivan’s Childhood we encountered protests from the film authorities every time we tried to replace narrative causality with poetic articulations. And yet we were moving quite tentatively, still only feeling our way. There was no question of revising the basic working principles of film-making. But whenever the dramatic structure showed the slightest sign of something new—of treating the rationale of everyday life relatively freely—it was met with cries of protest and incomprehension. These mostly cited the audience: they had to have a plot that unfolded without a break, they were not capable of watching a screen if the film did not have a strong story-line. The contrasts in our film—cuts from dreams to reality, or, conversely, from the last scene in the crypt to victory day in Berlin—seemed to many to be inadmissible. I was delighted to learn that audiences thought differently.

There are some aspects of human life that can only be faithfully represented through poetry. But this is where directors very often try to use clumsy, conventional gimmickry instead of poetic logic. I’m thinking of the illusionism and extraordinary effects involved in dreams, memories and fantasies. All too often film dreams are made into a collection of old-fashioned filmic tricks, and cease to be a phenomenon of life.

Faced with the necessity of shooting dreams, we had to decide how to come close to the particular poetry of the dream, how to express it, what means to use. This was not something that could be decided in the abstract. Casting around for an answer we tried out several practical possibilities, using associations and vague guesses. Quite unexpectedly it occurred to us to have negative images in the third dream. In our mind’s eye we glimpsed black sunlight sparkling through snowy trees and a downpour of gleaming rain. Flashes of lightning came in to make it technically feasible to cut from positive to negative. But all this merely created an atmosphere of unreality. What about the content? What about the logic of the dream? That came from memories. I remembered seeing the wet grass, the lorry load of apples, the horses, wet with rain, steaming in the sunshine. All this material found its way into the film straight from life, not through the medium of contiguous visual arts. Looking for simple solutions to the problem of conveying the unreality of the dream we hit on the panorama of moving trees in negative, and, against that background, the face of the little girl passing in front of the camera three times, her expression changed with each appearance. We wanted to capture in that scene the child’s foreboding of imminent tragedy. The last scene of the dream was deliberately shot near water, on the beach, in order to link it with the last dream of Ivan.

Returning to the question of the choice of locale, it has to be said that our failures occurred precisely at those points in the film where associations suggested by the experience of specific places were pushed out by a piece of fiction or as a result of meekly following the script That was what happened to the scene with the crazy old man and the burnt-out ruin. I don’t mean the content of the scene but its plastic realisation. At first the scene had been envisaged differently.

We pictured an abandoned field, swollen with the rains, with a muddy, waterlogged road running over it.

Along the roadside—stumpy, autumnal white willows.

There was no burnt-out ruin.

Only far away on the horizon stood a solitary chimney.

There had to be a feeling of loneliness hanging over it all. A scraggy cow was harnessed to the cart carrying Ivan and the old madman. (The cow was from E. Kapiyev’s8 memoirs of the front.) A rooster was sitting on the floor of the cart, and some heavy object lay there wrapped up in dirty matting. When the Colonel’s car drove up Ivan ran away over the field, as far as the horizon, and Kholin had to spend a long time chasing him, barely managing to drag his boots out of the clinging mud. Then the Dodge drove off, and the old man was left alone. The wind raised a flap of the matting to show a rush’ plough lying in the cart. The scene was to have been filmed in long, slow shots, and thus to have quite a different rhythm.

Not that I settled for the other version for reasons of efficiency. There happened to be two versions and I didn’t realise until later that I had chosen the less good of the two.

There are other unsuccessful passages in the film of the kind that arise as a rule when the moment of recognition is not there for the author and is therefore equally lacking for the audience. I spoke of this earlier, in connection with the poetics of memory. One instance is the shot of Ivan walking through the columns of troops and army vehicles, when he is running away to join the partisans. The scene awakes no feelings in me, and so the audience can experience none in response. For the same reason the conversation beween Ivan and Colonel Gryaznov in the reconnaissance section is only partially successful. The interior is indifferent and neutral, despite the dynamic of the boy’s excitement. And only the medium shot of the soldiers working below the window brings in an element of life, becomes the stuff of associations, of thought that goes beyond what is stated.

Scenes like this, which have no inherent meaning, which the author has failed to illuminate, obtrude as something alien, they break out from the compositional mould of the film.

All this proves yet again that cinema, like any other art, is created by the author. What the director can be given by his colleagues in the course of their work together is inestimable; but all the same it is his conception alone that finally gives the film its unity. Only what has been broken down in his subjective, author’s vision will become the stuff of art and will go to make up that distinctive, complex world which reflects a true picture of reality. Naturally his unique position does not lessen the enormous value of the contribution brought to the work by all the other members of the team; but even in this interdependence the others’ ideas only actually enhance the work when the director knows how to choose between them. Otherwise the wholeness of the work is destroyed.

A major part of the responsibility for the success of our film belongs to the actors, particularly Kolya Burlyavev, Valya Malyavina, Zhenya Zharikov, Valentin Zubkov. Many of them were filming for the first time, but they performed with great seriousness.

I had noticed Kolya, the future Ivan, when I was still a student. It is no exaggeration to say that my acquaintance with him decided my attitude to the filming of Ivan’s Childhood. The rigid deadline precluded any serious search for an actor to play Ivan, and I was constrained by a tight budget as a result of some unsatisfactory initial work on the film, carried out with a different team. However, other guarantees of the film’s viability were to hand in the persons of Kolva, camera-man Vadim Yusov, composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, and set designer Evgeny Chernyayev; these made me persist with the filming.

Everything about the actress Valya Malyavina was at variance with Bogomolov’s portrait of the nurse. In the story she is a fat, blonde girl with a high bosom and blue eyes. Valya was like a negative of Bogomolov’s nurse: dark hair, hazel eyes, boyish torso. But with all that she had something original, individual, unexpected, which had not been in the story. And this was far more important, more complex, it could explain a lot about Masha and was full of promise. So there was another moral guarantee.

The kernel of Valya’s acting persona was vulnerability. She looked so naive, pure, trusting that it was immediately clear that Masha-Valya was completely defenceless in the face of this war which was nothing to do with her. Vulnerability was the key-note of her nature and of her age. Everything active in her, all that should determine her attitude to life, was still in an embryonic state. This allowed the relationship between her and Captain Kholin to build up naturally, because he was disarmed by her defencelessness. Zubkov, who played Kholin, found himself totally dependent on his partner, and whereas with another actress his behaviour might have seemed artificial and edifying, with her it was utterly genuine.

These comments are not to be taken as the platform from which Ivan’s Childhood was launched. They are simply an attempt to explain to myself the thoughts that came up in the course of the work, and how these formed themselves into some sort of system. The experience of working on the film helped to form my views. Subsequently these were reinforced by writing The Passion of Andrey, the scenario for the film about the life of Andrey Rublyov, which I completed in 1967.

After writing the screenplay I was very doubtful about whether it would be possible to produce the film. In any case I knew it would certainly not be a historical or biographical work. I was interested in something else: I wanted to investigate the nature of the poetic genius of the great Russian painter. I wanted to use the example of Rublyov to explore the question of the psychology of artistic creativity, and analyse the mentality and civic awareness of an artist who created spiritual treasures of timeless significance.

The film was to show how the national yearning for brotherhood, at a time of vicious internecine fighting and the Tartar yoke, gave birth to Rublyov’s inspired ‘Trinity’—epitomising the ideal of brotherhood, love and quiet sanctity. Such was the artistic and philosophical basis of the screenplay.

It was written in separate episodes—novellas—in which Rublyov himself did not always figure. Even when he was not present, however, there had to be an awareness of the life lived by his spirit; one had to breathe the atmosphere which informed his relations with the world. These novellas are not connected by a traditional chronological line, but by the poetic logic of the need for Rublyov to paint his celebrated ‘Trinity’. The episodes, each with its own particular plot and theme, draw their unity from that logic. They develop in interaction with each other, through the inner conflict inherent in the poetic logic of their sequence in the screenplay: a kind of visual manifestation of the contradictions and complexities of life and of artistic creativity . . .

As for the historical side, we wanted to make the film as if we were dealing with a contemporary. And so the historical facts, people, artifacts, had to be seen not as the stuff of future memorials, but as something living, breathing, even everyday.

Props, costumes, utensils—we didn’t want to look at any of these things with the eye of the historian, the archaeologist, or the ethnographer, collecting museum exhibits. A chair had to be an object on which to sit, not a rare antique.

The actors had to play the parts of characters they understood, essentially subject to the same feeling as people living now. We wanted to do away once and for all with the tradition of the buskins onto which the actor in the historical film usually clambers, and which, by the time the end is in sight, have imperceptibly turned into stilts. I felt that all of this was essential for optimum results. I was determined to realise this film with the collective forces of the team that had already proved itself in battle: Yusov as camera-man, Chernyayev as art director, and Ovchinnikov to write the music.

I shall conclude this chapter by revealing the clandestine aim of the book: my hope is that those readers whom I manage to convince, if not entirely then at least in part, may become my kindred spirits, if only in recognition of the fact that I have no secrets from them.

Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time. Reflections on the Cinema, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1987


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