The artistic image is always a metonym, where one thing is substituted for another, the smaller for the greater. To tell of what is living, the artist uses something dead; to speak of the infinite, he shows the finite.
What is Bresson’s genre? He doesn’t have one. Bresson is Bresson. He is a genre in himself. Antonioni, Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Dovzhenko, Vigo, Mizoguchi, Buñuel—each is identified with himself. The very concept of genre is as cold as the tomb. And is Chaplin—comedy? No: he is Chaplin, pure and simple; a unique phenomenon, never to be repeated. He is unadulterated hyperbole; but above all he stuns us at every moment of his screen existence with the truth of his hero’s behavior. In the most absurd situation Chaplin is completely natural; and that is why he is funny. His hero seems not to notice the hyperbolized world around him, nor its weird logic. Chaplin is such a classic, so complete in himself, that he might have died three hundred years ago.
What could be more ridiculous or less probable than someone starting inadvertently to eat, along with his spaghetti, paper streamers hanging down from the ceiling? Yet with Chaplin the action is live, naturalistic. We know the whole thing is made up and exaggerated, but in his performance the hyperbole is utterly naturalistic and probable, and therefore convincing—and superbly funny. He doesn’t play. He lives those idiotic situations, is an organic part of them.
— Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time
The Zone is a very complicated system of traps, and they’re all deadly. I don’t know what’s going on here in the absence of people, but the moment someone shows up, everything comes into motion. Old traps disappear and new ones emerge. Safe spots become impassable. Now your path is easy, now it’s hopelessly involved. That’s the Zone. It may even seem capricious. But it is what we’ve made it with our condition. It happened that people had to stop halfway and go back. Some of them even died on the very threshold of the room. But everything that’s going on here depends not on the Zone, but on us! [..] I think it lets those pass who… have lost all hope. Not good or bad, but wretched people. But even the most wretched will die if they don’t know how to behave. -Stalker (1979)
“Erland going up and down the ladder like a firefighter, grumbling that he had never in his life had to work out as much as during the shooting of Tarkovsky’s film and complaining that he would soon have the biceps of King Kong. Kerstin Eriksdotter suggested that we rename the film The Ladder. ‘Why not? The Ladder sound rather good,’ Andrei agreed, adding: ‘Gogol asked for a ladder before he died.’”
“For a long time, Sven Nykvist was puzzled by Andrei’s constant peering through the lens. It even bothered him, until Andrei explained to him that only after looking through the viewfinder of the camera was he able to visualise the mise-en-scène .”
“Alexander dreams he is picking small coins out of sticky mud. ‘When you see money in a dream, it portends tears,’ Andrei would say. Apparently, it was a recurring dream of his.”
“Russian filmmakers have a custom: on the first day’s shoot they smash a bottle of champagne (like when a ship is launched). Andrei reassured the worried Swedes that his intent was not to consume it, but to break it for the success of the film. On the first attempt, the bottle would not shatter. ‘It’s a bad omen,’ Andrei whispered to me, requesting me not to translate it into Swedish… Yet, the significance of the moment was not lost on anyone present.”
I have come across actors who right up to the end could not bring themselves to trust completely in my reading of their role; for some reason they kept straining to direct their own parts, taking them out of the context of the film. I regard that kind of actor as less than professional. My idea of the real screen actor is someone capable of accepting whatever rules of the game are put to him, easily and naturally, with no sign of strain; to remain spontaneous in his reactions to any improvised situation. I am not interested in working with any other kind of actor, for he will never play anything beyond more or less simplified commonplaces.
In this connection, what a brilliant actor the late Anatoly Solonitsyn was, and how I miss him now.
“An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”
—Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986)
The Hunters in the Snow (Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565; oil on panel)
The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
A member of the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences sent me a notice published in their wall newspaper:
‘The appearance of Tarkovsky’s film, Mirror, aroused wide interest in IPAS as it did all over Moscow.
By no means all who wanted to meet the director were able to do so; nor, unfortunately, was the author of this notice. None of us can understand how Tarkovsky, by means of cinema, has succeeded in producing a work of such philopsophical depths. Accustomed to films as storyline, action, characters and the usual “happy ending”, the audience looks for these things in Tarkovsky’s films, and often enough leaves disappointed.
What is this film about? It is about a Man. No, not the particular man whose voice we hear from behind the screen, played by Innokenti Smoktunovsky. It’s a film about you, your father, your grandfather, about someone who will live after you and who is still “you”. About a Man who lives on the earth, is part of the earth and the earth is a part of him, about the fact that a man is answerable for his life both to the past and to the future. You have to watch this film simply, and listen to the music of Bach and the poems of Arseny Tarkovsky; watch it as one watches the stars, or the sea, as one admires a landscape. There is no mathematical logic here, for it cannot explain what man is or what is the meaning of his life.’