Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ivan's Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo) A Film By Andrei Tarkovsky (1962)

Make no mistake about it; if one is to assess the work of iconic Russian artist Andrei Tarkovsky, the first stop is unavoidably the spectacular poetic imagery that permeates each and every one of his films. In Ivan's Childhood, his stunning and promising debut feature, nearly every shot is a breathtaking black and white composition, showcasing and introducing Tarkovsky's propensity towards natural elements such as water, dirt, trees, and leaves that persistently evoke a spiritual clarity stronger than that of all filmmakers. The film follows a youthful boy named Ivan who connects with three Soviet officers during World War II after he successfully shows he can cross enemy lines unnoticed. Like most living during wartime, Ivan has been influenced heavily; he feels that he can serve the country with dignity as a spy, against the wishes of the officers to send him off to Army Camp.

Unlike most war films, Tarkovsky is uninterested in the battlefield and politics. Instead, he delivers a fusion of dreams and reality to portray the outstandingly potent nostalgia towards childhood that was forged in Ivan when his family was murdered. The film is loaded with bittersweet dream sequences-lucid as ever to avoid sentimentality-that are brimming with creativity, mesmerizing photography, and a sincere personal inflection. The heartbreakingly simple world of Ivan's mind is contrasted with the austere reality of wartime that he is thrusting himself into. This is certainly no groundbreaking idea, but its the uncannily haunting presentation of it that makes it so memorable.

Ivan's Childhood has been said to be not your average Tarkovsky film, but I felt that the film holds many parallels with his distinct visual style, his references to religion, and his anti-war and nostalgic attitudes. The story however is not told as naturally and fluently as most of his other works. There are some oddly inconsequential plot points such as the story of Masha, a female Soviet worker who is pursued by one of Ivan's soldier companions in a dense birch tree forest. Despite the dreamlike mood of the scene, it is nonetheless one that detracts from Ivan's story. There are also minor technical flaws in the film, like the slightly clunky camera movements at times, or the sharp shadows that fall in odd places during some of the conversational scenes. These are forgivable though, given the low-budget that was being worked with. Ingmar Bergman once said that Tarkovsky's art was film as a dream, and this film is precisely that; it's also one of the most potent portraits of wartime's influence and lost childhood.

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