Andrei Tarkovsky on Sundry Topics

All quotes below (except "On Bresson") are from The Tolstoy Complex, edited by Dr. Seweryn Kuśmierczyk at the Polish Literature Department of Warsaw University. This book, currently only available in Polish, is a thematically arranged compilation of interviews taken from magazines from all over the world. The excerpts are reproduced here with the kind permission of the editor. Where applicable, the original translators' names are shown in square brackets following the references. English (re)translation by Jan Bielawski,

On comparisons between him and Bergman
Here is a difference between me and Bergman: for me God is not a mute. I totally disagree with those who claim an aura of films by the Swedish director is present in The Sacrifice. When Bergman speaks of God, he does it in the context of God who is silent, who is not with us. So we have nothing in common, just the opposite. Some of the superficial remarks were made because the actor in the main role had also worked with Bergman or because of the traces of Swedish landscape in my film. People making such claims have not understood anything in Bergman, they don't know what existentialism is. Bergman is closer to Kierkegaard than to problems of religion.

Interview La foi est la seule chose qui puisse sauver l'homme with Charles de Brantes in "La France Catholique", 20 June 1986 [Pol. trans. Zygmunt Kwiatkowski].

On Bresson
Bresson was charming, we had a very pleasant conversation. He promised to visit us again sometime. I was thinking of his brilliant films. I don't even know which one is the best: Balthazar, Mouchette, Diary of a Country Priest, Trial of Joan of Arc. In my opinion, Journal d'un curé de campagne makes the greatest impression. Everything in his films happens out of itself, they have nothing to do with the kind of cinema termed "film production." His films from the forties and fifities are all the same, there are no differences between them. How magnificent Trial of Joan of Arc is — it's simply amazing! Joan comes out of the cellar, the camera pans — she walks, sits at the table, across sits a priest, the examining magistrate. A shot of her — a shot of him, a shot of her — a shot of him, she says something — he says something, next the interrogation is finished, she stands up and leaves. The end. The episode is over. The second one is the same. Episodes three and four are the same. Minimum tools and no extra meanings from juxtapositions of shots. These various little tricks are our invention. To make something look like a candy. Cinema's existence is not enough for them. They have to make something bigger out of it, something full of expression. Cinema is like poetry. They have to make superpoetry out of poetry. Pushkin is not enough, something different and new is required...

Bresson is a genius. Here I can state it plainly — he is a genius. If he occupies the first place, the next director occupies the tenth. This distance is very depressing.

No, a man who lacks culture will never create good cinema, never.

From the Polish version of Martyrolog [trans. Seweryn Kuśmierczyk]. The full context is found in the Diaries' Section, under The Sacrifice.

On Mao Tse-Tung
I was once in Switzerland chairing the jury of the Locarno festival. During a picnic or a reception a group of young people walked up to me. One of them, a young girl — wearing very democratically a pair of old jeans and a worn jacket — asked me about my opinion about China, about Mao Tse-Tung. I told her I couldn't stand the gentleman because I knew his kind all too well... I was from the East after all. She said I knew nothing about the revolution, that we were all philistines, that they were the true revolutionaries, people in Europe, those who sensed the greatness of Mao's ideology. The girl kept preaching her revolutionary slogans, I got angry at her and told her to beat it... merde... The girl took no offence and walked away, got into a Mercedes, slammed her bare foot on the accelerator and drove home.

Interview Taiteen on jaloselettava katsojia with Risto Mäenpää and Jaakko Pyhälä in Filmihullu 1976 (8), pp. 7–11 [Pol. trans. Andrzej Stefaniak].

On Stanislavsky
I worked for theatre and I know very well what Stanislavsky means for theatre art. I am convinced that his method is completely useless in cinema.

Americans, for example, like Stanislavsky very much. A school devoted to his theory and legacy was established some time ago in the United States. Marlon Brando among others studied in this tradition. I don't know what his acting has in common with the method of Stanislavsky. Marlon Brando is a typical American, he is very expressive at first, and only later he is deep. But already from the beginning everything in his acting is on the outside, one knows immediately from the moment he appears what is inside. But when, say, Liv Ullman appears... we do not understand anything of what she feels and only at a certain moment, towards the end of the film, we suddenly get an impression of incredible truth and honesty.

What I want to say is that everything is relative. Perhaps Stanislavsky's method had an influence on Marlon Brando during the initial phase of his career, and on all those actors who talk about Stanislavsky's influence on their work, but in reality what is fundamental there belonged to the living Stanislavsky. I think Stanislavsky was good for his own theatre and his own actors whom he educated using his approach; Stanislavsky's method was good for Stanislavsky himself.

Interview Intervista a Tarkovskij with Luisa Capo in Scena 1980 (3), supplement Achab (4), pp. 119–127 [Pol. trans. Marian Jurewicz].

On Music in Film
Music is obviously of great importance to me. It's not only the image I could photograph that is important, but for this image I need precisely this snippet of Bach. If I don't find it I won't replace it with anything else and I won't photograph that image. Here in Sweden I have discovered a wonderful folk music which has a fantastic influence on me and it organises the whole material of my new film around itself. It will enter the film not as illustration but as its emotional weave. As usual.

Music competes with film, it can become an organic element of film but it can also take control of the image — this is a serious problem! A scene without music is completely different, it changes with music dubbed in. Pure film should be able to do without music but that's pure theory as music is something organic in film, it's not only a form of illustration.

Interview Spotkanie z Andriejem Tarkowskim with Jerzy Illg in Tygodnik Powszechny 1987 (8), p. 3

On Poets
What is poetry? It's a highly original manner of expressing and thinking about the world. A typical person is not able to express a universal view of the world. It's impossible for him to do so, his vision will always remain fragmentary. A poet is someone who can use a single image to send a universal message. A man passes another man by, he looks at him but he cannot see him. Another man will look at the same person and he will smile unexpectedly. The stranger has provoked an explosion of associations in him. It's similar with art. A poet takes a small fragment as a starting point and turns it into a coherent whole. Some consider this process boring. These are people who want to know about everything in minutest detail, like accountants or lawyers. But show a toe sticking out of a hole in a sock to a poet and it is enough to produce image of the whole world in him.

Interview Im Augenblick will ich kein Kind mehr sein with Cesare Biarese and Pantelis Karakozis in Filmfaust 1984 (38), pp. 2–8 [Pol. trans. Adam Sewen].

On his later films and The Sacrifice
Could selected sequences from The Sacrifice be adapted for stage? It might be possible although I think my two other films, Solaris and Stalker are more suitable. Such play would probably turn out weak and pretentious though. Film for me is important because it does not consider viewer's time and rhythm. Film has its own rhythm and time. When we adapt film for stage, we ignore the very important problem of time contained within it. Such adaptation wouldn't succeed.

I hate leaving anything to chance. Even the most poetic, the most innocent image won't appear by chance. The Sacrifice is for me the most consistent of my films. This feeling of consistency can bring one to the brink of insanity, in this sense The Sacrifice cannot be compared to my earlier films.

Considered from the vantage point of my insight into the world of contemporary man, The Sacrifice is better than my other films. But as an artistic, poetic creation, I rate Nostalghia above The Sacrifice. Nostalghia is not supported by anything, it exists only to the extent of its own poetic image. The Sacrifice on the other hand was based on classical dramaturgy. That's why I feel closer to Nostalghia.

Interview La foi est la seule chose qui puisse sauver l'homme with Charles de Brantes in La France Catholique, 20 June 1986 [Pol. trans. Zygmunt Kwiatkowski].

On search for film form
The only path for a creative idea to reach the audience leads through the creator's trust in the viewer. The creator and the viewer should be equal partners in the discussion. There is no other way.

One must never spoonfeed the audience even if it's something obvious to the artist. One ought to accommodate aesthetic opinions of the audience yet it's necessary to keep in mind that the duty of creating modern film art means one can never compromise.

One must not, under no circumstances, yield to the conservative audience tastes.

I don't believe in the literary-theatrical principle of dramatic construction. In my opinion it has nothing to do with specific features of the art of cinema. In many films nowadays there are too many passages whose only role is to explain circumstances of events. In film there is no need to explain anything but to influence viewers' feelings directly. The emotions thus awakened accelerate the train of thought.

I seek an editing principle which would allow me to explicate not only the logic of the object but the subjective logic as well — thoughts, dreams, recollections. I seek the form arising from a given situation and a psychological state of the character, i.e. from circumstances objectively influencing human behaviour. This is the fundamental condition for rendering psychological truth.

Interview Att resa i sitt inre. Samtal med Tarkovskij with Gideon Bachman in "Chaplin" 1984 (4), pp. 158–163 [Pol. trans. Katarzyna Górecka].

On levitation
Why do I so frequently include a levitation scene, a body rising up? Simply because the scene has a great power. This way things can be created that are more filmic, more photogenic. From this point of view water is very important. Water is alive, it has depth, it moves, it changes, it reflects like mirror, it can drown us, we can drink it, we can wash in it, etc... And it hardly needs mentioning that water is an indivisible part, a monad. Likewise, when I imagine a person suspended in mid-air, I like it... I believe it makes sense. If some cretin asked me why in my last film there were people floating in the air, I would say: "It's magic". If the same question came from someone more refined, someone who possessed poetic sensibility, I would respond that for Alexander and Maria love was not the same thing as it was for the author of Betty. For me love is the ultimate manifestation of mutual understanding, and this cannot be shown by the sexual act. Everybody says that if there is no "love" in a film, it is because of censorship. In reality it is not "love" that's shown on screen but the sexual act. The sexual act which for everyone, for every couple, stands alone. When it's shown on screen we have the opposite situation.

Interview La foi est la seule chose qui puisse sauver l'homme with Charles de Brantes in La France Catholique, 20 June 1986 [Pol. trans. Zygmunt Kwiatkowski].

On experimental films
The so-called "new cinema" which intentionally shuts itself off of tradition is in its essence an experimental cinema, a starting point for some future art. As for me, I do not allow myself any experimentation as I am very serious about what I do: given my original plans I always strive to achieve the most complete result possible. This never happens while experimenting. Eisenstein could afford doing experiments because at that time cinema was just being born, there was no other way but to experiment. Today it is different, there exist certain traditions in cinema art already. Besides — I don't like experiments. It just takes too much time and effort and in my opinion one should devote the time and effort to something sound. An artist should not create sketches, produce notebooks filled with half-baked ideas — he should create works that count.

Interview L'artiste dans l'ancienne Russie et dans l'URSS nouvelle with Michel Ciment and Jean and Luda Schnitzer in Positif, October 1969 (109), pp. 1–13 [Pol. trans. Zygmunt Kwiatkowski].

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