A controversial statement to open: Andrey Tarkovskiy is the European Stanley Kubrick.
A couple months ago, a Russian film festival ran through town and classics were rehashed. Starting from the textbook Battleship Potempkin to the more obscure works of Sergei M. Eisenstien, it seems all bases were covered (in a historical approach).
I decided to take in a few films I had seen clips of in various film classes. Yes I was stoked to see the original Solaris (seeing as how Steven Soderbergh’s interpretation found me feeling bored more than enthralled), but what I was really looking forward to was The Sacrifice.
An intensely personal film, it veers wildly between reality and lucidity. It examines a family hanging on by a thread and united by guilt and exhaustion. As a highly intellectual and philosophical film it follows an equally intelligent protagonist as he makes the ultimate sacrifice for his family, his love and his sanity.
The reason I wish to compare Kubrick and Tarkovsky, however, has nothing to do with subject matter, and all to do with cinematography, framing and a specific shot: The long shot. Both directors have excelled in this cinematic feat with extremely famous scenes taken in but one long shot. For Kubrick think about the famous trike and dead sisters scene in The Shining, or pretty much any scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. For Tarkovsky we can look at one of the opening shots in The Sacrifice: It’s seriously over 10 minutes and one continual shot which slowly pans and moves direction. The way the shot is framed is particularly genius:
The action and focus is slightly off center, forcing our eyes dart around the frame. Credit where credit it due: I know much of this is due in part to the magnificent cinematographer but the rolling shots are seriously divine. Tedious, but unarguably impressive. And of course props to the actor who is able to memorize such lengthy monologues.
A further point of intersection between the two directors? Solaris is widely considered to be the Russian version of 2001: A Space Oddesy. If 2001 ate a philosophy textbook it would be around the same ballpark, but obviously still mirrors anxieties over space travel. I found this film to be profoundly disturbing. particularly the scene in which we watch, un-blinking, as our protagonist’s wife die from drinking anti-freeze only to very painfully come back to life again, because shes not actually real, so she can’t actually die, you see.
But Solaris is again connected by thoughtful and delicate long shots: lengthy monologues, meticulous scenes of nature, lingering views of emotion, they’re all here.
Final words? These directors both take their time. They’re in no rush (Obviously, with such tombs as Barry Lyndon or Solaris which range into the 3 hour mark), and take their time with their work. This is reflected in the long-shots, which only a dedicated director or connoisseur of art will attempt to create. Because in a world in a rush, not everyone has the patience for such sensitivity.