Search Results for: Tarkovsky

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The famous "trench" kiss in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood"

A Confession of Influence: Paul Cézanne, Ukraine, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood” (1962)

Childhood is a personal thing. It consists of those moments, amid our early years, that serve to shape us, set our foundations into place, and create our impressions. ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man,’ Aristotle said. So, what then? Childhood is a personal thing. Yet admittedly, I found myself struggling to write this essay. As an avid Tarkovsky viewer, I don’t know why this would be the case, other than perhaps the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Before Putin invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, I had already set out to write a number of reviews on Tarkovsky’s films. A beloved director, why should this not be the case? However, now when watching this Russian filmmaker, I admit to viewing his films differently. This is nothing against Andrei Tarkovsky himself, who was a sensitive, empathic man who would be outraged by this war, were he alive. But within his films, there is something there. I caught a glimpse of it whilst watching Stalker (one of my faves), but I most certainly saw it again within Ivan’s Childhood. […]

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A stylized screenshot of the Stalker from Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker"

Awakening & Escaping Happiness: Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” (1979)

In watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, I found myself missing a man I’ve never met, who died when I was only 10. He is one of those directors who, amid the visual, transcends film as a medium and moves it into something other, something ethereal, and something understandable. Yet, as for what that understanding is—it will vary upon audience. Upon rewatch (as I’ve seen the film a number of times), Russia invaded Ukraine only a day earlier. The sad news of events only adds to the film’s relevance. I also recently reviewed Antonioni’s Red Desert, wherein I refer to the human intrusion that has desecrated nature. By contrast, Stalker is almost a rebellion to all of that—nature’s uprise perhaps? After all, where do humans fit amid all this? Where exactly are we supposed to fall?

The story, shot in long, dreamlike sequences, is meant to immerse one into a sort of dream. (I often thought that watching a Tarkovsky film is the closest to observing dream.) The film, set in an unknown country in an unknown time, begins with a journey involving unnamed citizens. Stalker, Writer and Professor are the titles distinguishing these three figures who, in their search through the Zone (a site supposedly loaded with traps) contains a Room where one can wish for their secret desires to come true. The anonymity of the characters serves a purpose—that this could be any one of us. And what of the Zone? How do we interpret this place that is ever so difficult to navigate? Here, weeds are overgrown (according to human standards, anyway) and the flowers hold no scent. When the Writer is asked what he writes about, ‘My readers,’ he replies. […]

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A stylized photo of Arseny Tarkovsky smoking a cigarette.

An Initiation: On “I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky”

As someone with an affection for the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, I was eager to finally meet his father. I met him momentarily within Andrei’s 1975 film Mirror, but we barely got acquainted. Arseny Tarkovsky (1907-1989) held a huge place in his son’s life. And like with Jean Pierre Renoir, here we have another father-son dynamic wherein both are artists. Andrei admitted that his father’s work had a huge influence upon him, and how fortunate is that? To have a father who not only encourages the arts but also is an artist himself? In watching many interviews with Andrei, it is clear that he was a very sensitive soul. He loved his father and because his father’s work held such impact in his life, and he chose to honor him by using his work within his films. As example, take this poem from I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky (translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev), which is set against one of the more famous scenes within Mirror. […]

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A still shot from Andrei Tarkovsky's "Mirror" (Zerkalo) (1975)

Contained In Captivity: On Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Mirror” (Zerkalo)

I open this essay unsure how to approach it—I’ve seen Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film Mirror about a dozen times, and each viewing is different. Each is a separate experience and yields something new. I find myself mentally revisiting certain scenes over others, but then in rewatching, my mind will rearrange into whatever I am feeling at the time. Perhaps, then, this is the best way to interpret this memorable film about memory, where it captures just how the mind drifts between past and present and often interchanges people’s faces with that of one’s dream. Reality and dream—is there a difference? To Tarkovsky, they are one and the same, as the director admitted that he often utilized his own dreams as an inspirational source for his films. And his films really are the closest one could get into being inside another’s dream. Decades pass in moments and then the past returns and then some occurrence in present day alters the viewers—we come to remember another’s memory and so on.

The film begins with a television screen—this gateway into fantasy—where the viewer, presumably the speaker (named Alexei), is witnessing on film a young man with a stutter—he is undergoing treatment at the hand of a nurse, and the film, which involves so much of the mind, begins with the body. ‘Your hands are tense,’ she says. ‘Lean back,’ she instructs, continually coaching his physical form. Then, in some hypnotic attempt, the young man is cured of his stutter, wherein we are then transported to another form of ‘hypnosis’— that is, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s dream. All this occurs before the title credits roll.

Margarita Terekhova is the actress who plays both Alexei’s mother as well as his ex-wife, Natalia. ‘I always thought you resembled my mother,’ he tells her. ‘When I imagine my mother, she always has your face.’ This is an insightful move on Tarkovsky’s part, as how often have we thought of someone only to imbue another’s face from memory onto them? That the scenes move back and forth between Alexei as a boy in 1935 pre-war to that of present day, only adds to this element of passage. Life and time are interchangeable. Our minds are just the onlookers, the photographers left to interpret what we’ve witnessed. […]

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The album cover for Burial's "Boy Sent From Above", featuring a black X with a white album label.

Angelmaker: Reviewing Burial’s “Boy Sent From Above” (2024)

I’m not sure to what extent the readers of Automachination are familiar with the work of Burial. All things considered, there’s probably a dearth of people on this website with an interest in the UK garage music scene, much less its most esoteric (and aggrandized) figurehead.

Burial is, like Banksy, a kind of pseudo-anonymous mystery artist. When he was nominated for a Mercury prize during the 2000s, popular tabloid The Sun began a national campaign to reveal his name and identity. Unsurprisingly, the artist was unmasked, not as a celebrity pseudonym, but a fairly normal, and recalcitrant young man from Croydon, South London.

Burial’s music is a hybrid of late twentieth century club styles that share a markedly British provenance: specifically jungle, dubstep, acid, drum & bass and UK garage (UKG). He came of age during London’s heyday of urban pirate radio and this perhaps explains the unmistakable overlay of DIY nostalgia in his production style – a kind of bittersweet sentimentality that permeates every part of his work. Listening to a Burial track often makes one wistful, or forlorn. […]

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A stylized shot of Sinan (Doğu Demirkol) sitting with books in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "The Wild Pear Tree" (2018).

Longing & Regretting: On Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Wild Pear Tree” (2018)

‘Have you seen The Wild Pear Tree’?

These are the words I have been continually asked ever since its 2018 debut, and my answer has always been, ‘I will upon access.’ Well, now the time has come. Firstly, I shall begin by saying that Nuri Bilge Ceylan is likely the greatest living filmmaker. Yes, there are others, like Steve McQueen, but The Wild Pear Tree not only captures the depth and breadth of Tarkovsky and Bergman, but its unique imagery and dialogue illuminates. It has been said that Ceylan claims to enjoy ‘really long, boring films.’ I presume that when he said this, he was referring to what is perceived as such according to the average person’s taste, because upon watching The Wild Pear Tree (which finishes in just over three hours), this film is everything but boring. But…let me begin.

The film stars Doğu Demirkol as Sinan who has returned to his hometown after graduating university. Word has it that he has written a novel, or rather, ‘literary reflections’ that he seeks to publish. His father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), works as a teacher but has a fantasy of living off the land, away from the city. He seeks to retire, but in the interim he is fixated on finding water at the bottom of a well. One afternoon, Sinan assists at the well begrudgingly, as he knows the neighbors think his father is ridiculous. Yet at the same time there is an underlining resentment that Sinan feels when it comes to his father’s gambling habit. (All done for the intention to someday live out this ‘living off the land’ fantasy.) […]

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The priest in Robert Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest", played by Claude Laydu, looking down in his room with a crucifix hanging to his left.

A World of Green Trees: Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” (1951)

Robert Bresson is a director who does not veer from the suffering a character must undertake at the cruelty of others. This is most prominent in The Trial of Joan of Arc, Mouchette, and Au Hasard Balthazar where we witness some being—be it person or animal—that is beaten under the brunt of some hostile society. Within all three films, each ends in dying or death. No one seems to have any empathy for the one suffering. Yet within Diary of a Country Priest, the ‘little priest’ as he is condescendingly referred to, undergoes very much the same. Unlike the pastor in Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, the priest’s faith remains unwavering, as he desperately claims to need prayer like ‘oxygen in his blood.’

The priest, played by Claude Laydu, is somber, morose, and moves about quietly and helplessly. His illness leaves him physically weak. He only smiles once in the film, and that is when he is on a motorcycle. Roger Ebert notes that this is the moment that perhaps rekindles his childhood. Memories of his youth, when there must have been an earlier joy. He has chosen this vocation on purpose, but for what purpose is this? Has Christ abandoned him just as well, as he remains in this otherwise small, petty, country town? Meanwhile, the locals leave threatening notes ordering him to leave. […]

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A stylized shot of the mother in Sean Baker's "The Florida Project" (2017) lying around, smoking a joint.

Still Growing: On Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” (2017)

There is an anxiety, among Left Wing cineastes particularly, for a “proper” artistic depiction of the poor. Realism, of course, is key – but how grueling is too grueling? You can’t slip into so-called poverty porn, because to do that would be to rob the class you’re portraying of their dignity. However, conversely, to be too light or fanciful, winsome, even, would be to rob them of their hardships, which uniquely distinguishes them from the higher classes. This is not to even mention the deeper anxiety that interrogates the point of art at all in one’s political project(s), especially when it comes to fictional portrayals of the subaltern and such. “It’s all make-believe, at bottom,” the worry might be. “Does this aid us? And would even the most nuanced portrait of the dispossessed do anything to alleviate their lack?”

Maybe this is caricature, but I’ve noticed this anxiety slip into many of the reviews I’ve read for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Many are positive (in that Baker avoids a misstep in either of the directions mentioned above) while some bemoan the lack of interiority in these characters’ lives, and even slam Baker for not making the mother, Halley, more empathetic. Others nitpick at its length, without elaboration, as well as its meandering, told-in-vignettes quality. And, of course, despite healthy acclaim, and a generous smattering of various festival/critic’s awards, the film still passed mostly under the radar – earning only a single nomination (Best Supporting Actor for Willem Dafoe’s Bobby) at that season’s Academy Awards. […]