I mentioned Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (1932-1986) a couple of posts ago, as one of at least three directors who could fairly be described as “creative theologians,” at least to the extent that film as an art form permits such a thing. He lived and worked for most of his life within the Soviet Union, but his worldview was profoundly influenced by the exiled Russian philosophers who were the subject of my last post. The works of the exiled philosophers were not, of course, openly available in the Soviet Union, but Tarkovsky probably read them in samizdat (underground) editions.
There’s no question but that some people don’t “get” Tarkovsky or just flat out don’t like his work. Some, while admiring the visual beauty of his films, find them too slow, too lacking in traditional narrative structure, or both. But if you find that you like him – and many who try him do – the chances are you’ll really like him. You may even find, as I do, that after Tarkovsky no other filmmaker quite satisfies, although it is difficult to explain why. The great Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, perhaps came closest when he 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.”
Everyone who feels this way has a favorite Tarkovsky film, sequence, or shot, and can’t resist describing it to others (you must bear with this fault of ours). For some, it might be the closing sequence of Zerkalo (Mirror), but there are many possibilities. Indeed, there is no better indication of the universality of Tarkovsky’s genius than the fact that there are no widely agreed-upon answers to the questions: What is Tarkovsky’s best film, best sequence, best shot? There are discernable patterns in the aggregate of responses, but each answer is as individual as the viewer. It depends on you to decide which is best.
My own “center point” within Tarkovsky’s oeuvre is a short sequence in Andrei Rublev. It is slightly under a minute in length. It wordlessly depicts three monks – Kirill (the one holding the bird), Danil (we assume), and Andrei – on a cart path in an open field moving toward, and then sheltering under, a young white oak tree in a heavy, wind-driven rain. The scene is from Andrei’s memory. We can’t be sure of the time of year, other than to say it isn’t winter. It’s probably spring. The rain seems at once chilling and life-giving. I’ve captured eight images from this sequence and reproduced them here. But static images can never adequately convey how wonderfully dynamic this scene is: the sheets of rain moving in the wind, the splattering of the raindrops on the hoods of the monks, the rustle of the oak leaves in the wind.