Close-Up on Andrei Tarkovsky; Close-Up Film Centre, London. 7 November - 22 December 2017.
Close-up cinema’s exhibition of Tarkovsky's seven masterpieces is not an easily digestible affair. Perhaps more so in the present world, as we become comfortable with the immediacy of smart phones and online content. Slow moving camera movements combined with epic run times (Andrei Rublev is over three hours long) are truly a world apart from the attention required to consume a snapchat video or scroll through Facebook. The most challenging aspect in entering Tarkovsky’s world is time itself, letting go of it as one might ordinarily experience it is the key to gaining insight into the meanings installed. Tarkovsky wants the audience to experience the world he’s created and sometimes even instructs the audience on how to to access it. In Stalker during the first scene the wife acts as his messenger "Why did you take my watch?” Tarkovsky may have been prominent over 30 years ago but it would appear that with regrettable events such as Brexit and the appointment of Mr 45 to the Whitehouse, Tarkovsky’s ideas of time and the world may still be relevant today.
Growing up in Soviet Russia during the Second World War, Tarkovsky experienced first hand the horror of warfare, Ivan's Childhood is perhaps the most potent reflection of this. We follow Ivan, a young boy who seeks revenge for his family who were slaughtered in a Nazi raid. He is determined to do his part in the war as a spy for the Red Army in daring top secret missions. As Ivan becomes increasingly absorbed by the mechanics of warfare it becomes eerily comparable to present day conflicts in the Middle East and the innocence which has become entangled. Slow, long tracking movements through stunning yet surreal natural environments, provide stark contrasts to mankind’s so called progression which results in much destruction during Ivan’s childhood.
Tarkovsky’s weariness of humanity’s impatience is seen across his filmmaking, often transported by unlikely yet wise characters who comment on how we use time “Everybody’s rushing, no one’s got any time” (Mirror) yet these words more often than not fall on deaf ears. In Stalker we are presented with a zone, an area of land contaminated by extraterrestrials. It becomes apparent that even the stalker himself knows little about the true purpose of the zone and its room which promises what your heart desires, yet they continue before fully understanding what they are pursuing. Set in an eerie post apocalyptic landscape, the setting is reminiscent of Chernobyl’s lifeless aftermath which still haunts the ongoing quest for nuclear power to this day, and is a symbol of mankind’s desire to push forward at all costs.
Tarkovsky’s response to the Cold War comes in the form of The Sacrifice. Making use of delicate tracking camera movements, immersing our interest in the environment which later becomes threatened by man’s impatience. An imminent nuclear threat is announced over a television set whilst the shrill scream of jets can be heard thundering overhead. The terrified faces of the family as the news strikes are revealed slowly one after another, each with their own horror which resonates within you. Alexander eventually strikes a deal with God to destroy his own life in return for the mercy of the world which sees him spectacularly setting fire to his own home. A warning from Tarkovsky that for our own longevity we must make sacrifice, existence must come before progress.
Tarkovsky uses time and often explains how we can use it to question ourselves about our own morality. Perhaps this is something we should be performing more frequently to help prevent us from repeating failures of the past.