Category Archives: Russia / Soviet Union

#279 Stalker

Сталкер

(1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)

“What was the point in coming here?”

I’ve watched two Andrei Tarkovsky movies before here on SvTM, and both times I was struck by how much Tarkovsky’s style seemed to be based around actively avoid telling an actual story and spending half his time navel-gazing. So here’s Stalker, another Tarkovsky movie, this time with a vaguely interesting premise, so perhaps this is a case of third time’s the charm?

Stalker starts by letting us know that something fell from space, and the area where this mysterious object landed became the site of various disappearances, causing the government to cordon it off and label it as “The Zone”, with access only allowed in special circumstances. Special people who become aware of how to navigate The Zone without weird stuff happening to them begin to guide lost souls to the mysterious room in the centre, which will allegedly make your innermost wish come true.

The movie focuses on one particular “Stalker” (Alexander Kaidonovsky) who leads two men into The Zone with their own purposes – The Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn), a sarcastic and bitter man, and The Professor (Nikolai Grinko), an old and somewhat nervous man.

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#266 Battleship Potemkin

(1925, Sergei Eisenstein)
Броненосец «Потёмкин»

With all eyes recently on Russia because of the Sochi Winter Olympics and the much-less positive anti-gay laws, and even less positive actions in Ukraine, it seems somewhat fitting that today we will be taking a look at one of the most successful Russian propaganda movies ever made, Battleship Potemkin.

Battleship Potemkin is a dramatic re-enactment of the 1905 mutiny on the real Potemkin, where sailors disobeyed their officers over their working conditions, and these actions ultimately led to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The movie, which celebrates the rebellion and the rise of communism, starts with sailors living in squalor and forced to eat maggot-infested meat, ultimately culminating in a battle, and gaining the sympathy of the people of Odessa.

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#232 The Mirror

(1974, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Зеркало (Zerkalo)

“It seems to make me return to the place, poignantly dear to my heart”

If there’s anything I seriously struggle to review here on SvTM, it’s bizarre semi-autobiographical art films made in Europe. There’s something incomprehensible about these kinds of films, since they tend to rely on symbolism over plot, and sometimes that symbolism is wrapped up so tightly it’s hard to unravel it all until something that makes sense. On that note, let’s take a look at The Mirror.

The Mirror is essentially a stream of consciousness movie, jumping throughout various memories, dreams and experiences of a mysterious person we never see, with a focus on a woman named Maria (Margarita Terehkova) who takes on a variety of roles.

And that’s everything that I could get from this movie’s “plot”. The movie has absolutely no structure or coherence to its events. Things just kind of happen, and it’s up to us as the viewer to put the pieces together. The movie opens on a boy being “healed” of his stuttering problem, before cutting to a strange businessman talking to Maria, who’s sitting on a fence.

As we move through the film, she’s seen staring into a mirror and seeing herself as an old woman, rummaging through what seems to be a newspaper office for something important during war time (I think), and fighting with her husband. There’s also a bizarre section where a boy named Ignat keeps seeing strange people hanging around the apartment he’s in before ending up as some kind of child soldier.

I’m not sure what Tarkovsky was trying to achieve with this movie, and as such it makes it hard to know what to say about it. There’s a definite dream-like quality to the movie, and if the aim was to be an ethereal dream without meaning, then he succeeded admirably. Nothing really pieces together well and nothing is ever really resolved. It leaves tons of questions, and things often feel distant. Just like in a dream, then.

Sadly, even if it’s achieved a dream-like state, The Mirror did very little to keep me engaged. Because nothing is connected, everything feels incredibly inconsequential. It feels pointless to pay attention to anything that happens, because it has no relevance to what happens in the next scene, and instead of engaging the viewer directly, it asks the viewer to force themselves to be engaged.

The constant shifting locations and name changes given to characters also serve to make the film horribly disorientating. It feels like there are several movies on different channels and I’m flicking between them all at random. Just as I was absorbing the information from the opening scenes at the farmhouse, it switches to the printers’ offices and everything that happened before was seemingly dropped, never to be seen again.

It gets worse when the movie suddenly switches to groups of teenage boys being trained as soldiers, with no obvious presence of Terehkova’s character, who up to that point had seemed like the central character, the anchor that held everything in place.

The Mirror is a difficult film that challenges constantly but offers little in the way of clues or assistance in unravelling its mysteries. Perhaps a good film for the arthouse crowd to pick apart, but not a movie to sit and watch casually.

Starring Margarita Terehkova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova, Anatoli Solonitsyn & Tamara Ogorodnikova
Written by Aleksandr Misharin & Andrei Tarkovsky
Produced by Erik Weisberg
Music by Eduard Artemyev
Cinematography by Georgi Rerberg
Edited by Lyudmila Feiginova

Favourite Scene: The scene with Ignat seeing strange people in an apartment was interesting and made me believe the film was turning into some kind of psychological thriller.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why the child soldiers, exactly? Did I miss something?

Watch it if: You like your arty semi-autobiographical movies
Avoid it if: You’d rather get your dreams from sleeping

#196 Solaris

(1972, Andrei Tarkovsky)

“We seek contact and will never achieve it”

SPACE! Many movies have talked about, many have visited it for extensive periods of time, but very rarely do we have movies pondering the very nature of space itself. But in 1972, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky made Solaris, a movie that looked into space and then asked “what the hell is going on?” Which is the very same question that much of the audience will be asking while watching the movie.

Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is a psychologist about to embark on a mission to a remote space station orbiting the distant ocean planet of Solaris. The crew has apparently lost their minds and it’s up to Kelvin to head up there and use his psychology powers to save them. Before he leaves, he’s visited by an astronaut from a previous mission, Henri Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky), who brings tapes of his report on his time on the station, where he reported seeing a 12-foot child emerging from the oceans of Solaris, and was dismissed as a lunatic (surely not?).

However, when Kelvin gets to Solaris, he discovers that things really are pretty weird up there. He begins to really freak out, however, when his dead ex-wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) turns up on the station and starts being all spooky.

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