A highlight of the films was Stalker (1979), an allegorical science fiction film loosely based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1971 novella Roadside Picnic, in which a writer and a scientist, following a sort of spiritual guide known as “the Stalker”, attempt to reach a metaphysical place known as “the Zone” to fulfil their innermost desires. However, during the trip and through numerous arguments, their real motivations are uncovered; and the antithesis between pragmatism and utopianism, faith and doubt, hope and disbelief, is pushed to the fore.
The writer character (known simply as “The Writer”) is thoughtfully played by Anatoly Solonitsyn, Tarkovsky’s self-professed “favourite” actor, who won the Silver Bear for Best Actor in 1981 for his role in the film Twenty Six Days from the Life of Dostoevsky. He also played a key part in Tarkovsky’s other science-fiction film, 1972’s Solaris, a magisterial work about a faraway planet whose sentient ocean probes the minds of orbiting humans, projecting their memories in front of them in a troubling semblance of reality. Despite some slightly dated visual effects, Solaris, over four decades after its release, remains one of cinema’s greatest science-fiction achievements.
Intriguingly, Tarkovsky was not enamoured of Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic landmark 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he thought “phoney on many points … a lifeless schema with only pretensions to truth”; many see Solaris as a sort of response to Kubrick’s film. But this is to downplay the achievements of both films: their respective preoccupations and aesthetics differ greatly. Their similarities lie in their length (both exceed 140 minutes), their meditative quality, their genre, and, ultimately, their profound credibility and eternal relevance. Solaris in particular uses science fiction as a way of exploring human themes of memory, obsession, love and grief; it went on to influence one of Japanese animation’s great short films, the undeservedly obscure 45-minute Kanojo no Omoide (Magnetic Rose), the first of Otomo Katsuhiro’s 1995 triptych Memories.
Tarkovsky was not a particularly prolific filmmaker, making about one film every three years from his 1962 debut Ivan’s Childhood to his final film, 1986’s The Sacrifice, which was his second film to win the Grand Prix at Cannes (after Solaris). Drawing upon philosophical and psychological themes, Tarkovsky composed lengthy, slow cinematic experiences that questioned the meaning of human existence, faith, hope and sacrifice through the passage of time.
The idea of love also plays a vital role throughout his filmography, as a panacea for many kinds of hardships. Tarkovsky was a key influence for such greats as the Hungarian “slow cinema” pioneer Béla Tarr, director of the seven-hour 1994 masterpiece Sátántangó; and Swedish maestro Ingmar Bergman, who once said: “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
Alongside the tribute the Greek Film Archive-Museum of Cinematography hosted the art exhibition Time and Image: Images of Crisis curated by Christina Androulidaki. The exhibition also includes works by Greek and international artists – an installation, video-art works and photos.
by Xenia Founta
Additional research and reporting by Arjun Sajip
GREEK FILM ARCHIVE: Iera Odos 48. & Megalou Alexandrou 134-136, Athens
Images courtesy of Greek Film Archive