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By Jake Watt
10th July 2020

I love all seven of the films of Andrey Arsenyevich Tarkovsky, who died of cancer shortly after finishing 1986's 'The Sacrifice'. I think he's unrivalled in terms of being able to close a movie with an indelible shot or sequence that just shakes you right to your core. 'Solaris' and 'Ivan's Childhood' are some of my favourites, and I'm also a fan of 'Stalker' and 'The Mirror'.

My thing with Tarkovsky films is that I don't think it's really fair to try to "figure out" the parts that seem incomprehensible or deliberately esoteric, because those pieces aren't trying to be thematically deep or particularly important to the literal plot of the movie.

Many of the strangest, most slow-moving parts of Tarkovsky's movies act like a sort of visual film score - they elicit emotion and present a mood, rather than further an idea or storyline or characterisation. All of his movies undoubtedly have themes that can be teased out ('The Mirror' included), complex characters and entrancing stories, but some scenes and shots and elements act as visual poetry, as pretentious as that sounds.


With the most visually arresting and, at the same time, confusing moments of his films (the flashbacks in 'Nostalghia', the water ceiling in 'The Mirror', those pensive wet ground shots in 'Stalker'), Tarkovsky is painting in time.

Written, directed and produced by his son, Andrey A. Tarkovsky, the documentary 'Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer' examines the life and work of the great Russian filmmaker, who left behind what is considered one of the great oeuvres of world cinema.

Instead of interviews with talking heads, it uses excerpts from films, photographs and Polaroids made by Tarkovsky, and location shots from the places where he lived and made his films, including Russia (Moscow, Zvenigorod, Vladimir, Tuchkovo, Myasnoye), Italy (Rome, Florence, Bagno Vignoni and San Gregorio); and Sweden where 'The Sacrifice' was shot. It also features never before released recordings of poems by Arseny Tarkovsky, one of the greatest Russian poets of the 20th century and the director's father, read by their author.

Divided into chapters, the straightforward chronological narrative deals with each of his films. 'Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer' explores the director's youth: memories of childhood, parents, the influence of his father's poetic works. From there, it looks at Tarkovsky's aims and objectives in cinema, analysis of his own works, and favourite directors. It also looks at what happened when he left Russia (where he directed his first five feature films: 'Ivan's Childhood', 'Andrei Rublev', 'Solaris', 'Mirror', and 'Stalker'), his encounters with the Western culture and work in Italy, as well as his conflict with Soviet authorities (they prevented 'Nostalghia' from winning the Palme d'Or).

Trying to "understand" Tarkovsky would be a waste of your time - it's like asking someone why they love a painting, or an instrumental song.

Trying to "understand" Tarkovsky would be a waste of your time - it's like asking someone why they love a painting or an instrumental song. He made visually stunning, mysterious movies that ask more questions than they answer, and there are amazing performances and good writing to deliver it to you. Along with their symbolic, visionary tone, and paucity of conventional plot and dramatic structure, there's a warmth and hope in Tarkovsky that I don't get from Stanley Kubrick, most Terrence Malick, and quite a bit of Ingmar Bergman, who once said, "Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn't explain. What should he explain anyhow?"

'Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer' goes a long way towards helping cinephiles to understand the man behind these beautiful, inscrutable works of art.

RUN TIME: 01h 37m
CAST: Andrei Tarkovsky
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Andrey A. Tarkovsky
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