2 posts categorized "Russian Cinema"

June 27, 2017


STALKER POSTERJean Paul Sartre’s ‘No Exit’ meets ‘Waiting For Godot” in Chernobyl in this influential cultural and ecological think piece from visionary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. This beautifully alien film makes Dostoevsky seem like an optimistic romantic with its inhumane post-apocalyptic dystopian setting.

Avant-garde filmmakers such as Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Pedro Costa, and Bela Tarr have all drawn obvious inspiration from Tarkovsky’s minimalist filmic appreciation of dirge-like tempos, earthly decay, and dark visual textures. Although "Stalker's" theatrically bound narrative structure of philosophical discourse bogs down as much as it reveals, ‘Stalker’ is a daring film that takes its audience on a necessarily Russian sci-fi inflected trip of the mind.

Check out Tarkovsky's thematic logic.

"Weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it's tender and pliant."


Alexander Kaidanovsky plays the ‘Stalker’ of the film’s title, which screenwriters Boris and Arkady Strugatsky transposed from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Stalky & Co.’ stories for the protagonist of their initial novel. Looking like a Russian Woody Harrelson, Kaidanovsky’s Stalker works as a guide into the Zone, a dangerous region bereft of wildlife save a few fish and a dog. The Zone contains a Room that enables its visitors to realize their innermost desires. Stalker admits that he has never in his life "seen one happy person." It doesn’t bode well for his two clients, a science professor and a writer, both of whom are two of the least fulfilled people you could imagine.     


The wet and toxic landscape that Tarkovsky presents is unnerving. No comfort is anywhere to be found. Everything is muddy and wet. There isn't even a tree stump you'd want to sit on. Tarkovsky savors awkward beauty in the ostensibly post-war debris that rots in shallow bodies of water that exist as constant reminders of life that once resided there. The filmmakers utilized two disused hydro power plants for key sequences in areas poisoned by toxic factories. The association with Chernobyl is no joke. Life as we know it cannot exist here. The experience took years off Tarkovsky's life for the numerous health issues he faced after spending extended periods of time in the radioactive region. 

While the script seems more adaptable to a stage play, the film's visual impact is at once horrible and lovely. Truly this is a movie for its audience to stalk and suffer. You might not find any answers, but you will learn some things about yourself while searching if you have such a predisposition to the task.


Not Rated. 183 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

Listen to the LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) Podcast episode about STALKER below!

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Mike picked Ommegang's Nirvana IPA for us to imbibe while chewing the fat over Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER.

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June 16, 2015


Solaris Auteur and gifted film theorist Andrei Tarkovsky, son of a celebrated Russian poet, Arseniy Tarkovsky, carried his father’s keen sense of elevated philosophical exploration into his films.

Inspired by filmmakers such as Buñuel, Eisenstein, and Bergman, Tarkovsky intuitively apprehends the flexible nature of the filmic medium to incorporate abstract ideas ranging from deeply held romantic values to metaphysical and political realities from a personal perspective. He allows provocative images (frequently drawn from nature) to editorialize and expand on the human condition that he studies from a plaintive viewpoint.  

Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel provided the basis for “Solaris,” a film that Tarkovsky considered the weakest of the seven features he made during his career. The dystopian psychological drama is set during the ‘70s-era Cold War in the context of ready-made science fiction.

Solaris2The burly Lithuanian actor Donatas Banionis plays Kris Kelvin, a Russian psychologist mourning the death of his wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). Kris visits his father at their solitary family home on the last day before Kris travels to a distant research space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The station’s three-man skeleton crew have fallen prey to a strange phenomenon that has rendered them useless. Discredited “pilot” Henri Berton visits with Kris and his father to show them a film of his testimony before a government review board, from years ago, of his own experiences on Solaris. Now an old man, Berton can barely stand to watch his former self describe a gigantic “four-meter-tall newborn” rising up from Solaris’s lava-like ocean as he hovered above the planet’s surface in a helicopter. Like the scientific review board, Kris doesn’t believe Berton’s “hallucinations.” During the sequence, Tarkovsky seamlessly switches between color to black-and-white to add dramatic depth to the wonderfully deployed exposition.

Upon his arrival to Solaris Kris discovers a space station in disarray. Tarkovsky’s ingenious production design of a modern space ship in decline provides the viewer with a wealth of details to contemplate.  

One of the cosmonauts has committed suicide. The other two are mentally unstable. Their attempts to probe Solaris’s ocean with X-rays has resulted in the planet attacking their brains. Almost immediately Kris falls prey to the same insidious force, one that sends a replica of his deceased wife to serve as an ever-regenerating distraction from his mission. Every new version of Hari is more convincing than the last. Kris’s sense of reality will be forever changed.  

After its release “Solaris” achieved a cult status among science fiction fans for the film’s effective set designs and strange sense of suspense. Seemingly opaque thematic elements contributed to the allure of seeing the picture more than once in order to decipher its hidden meanings. Andrei Tarkovsky’s prodigious ability to conceptualize grand-scale narrative structure with a fluid sense of cinematic time continues to influence filmmakers even if few rise to such dizzying heights.  


Rated PG. 169 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


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