In Search of Faith
Vladimir Baranov (30) was born and lives in Odessa. He received a Math degree from the State Odessa University in 1994
and attended a post-graduate course in Philosophy in 1997. He has been working as a teacher of Computer Science
since 1999 and is currently (2003) putting the finishing touches on his PhD dissertation on the subject.
He enjoys writing, and is inspired by the style of Leon Chestov, Basil Rozanov,
Descartes, Pascal, and Kierkegaard.
The original Russian-language version of this essay (far superior to our below translation attempt)
is found here.
"To the man who saw the Angel"
(The inscription on Tarkovsky's grave at the
cemetery Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris)
Solaris was my first Tarkovsky film. This was back in the 1980s.
that above all I wanted to see an adaptation of the outstanding work
by Stanislaw Lem but instead I met with something
completely different. Incomprehensible at first but insuperably
opening doors to a new, unknown until now yet tangibly real world
of art. I left the show lost in my impressions and over the next several days
the film's most thrilling frames kept reappearing before my mind's eye.
The drops of rain falling into the teacup, the movement of the grass
under water, the trees in the morning fog, Brueghel's painting meticulously
examined and accompanied by Bach's choral prelude, and many
others. As it often happens, I was looking for one thing and I found
something else, something incomparably greater.
One of the monologues, delivered by the astronaut Snaut, eventually
became something like a life credo for me, forever ending any interest
in science-fiction on my part. The character in the film, played beautifully
by Yuri Yarvet, in a calm but very expressive voice says that man
needs man and that all mysteries of the cosmos stand in no proportion
to the depths of human soul. The power of these words multiplied
by the inimitable magic of Tarkovsky's cinema and the actor's
personal charm is what I can recall vividly to this day.
I think Nostalghia is Andrei Tarkovsky's best film. This
cinematographic work is noticeably gentler and somehow more lyrical
than his other films. This is probably due in part to Oleg
Yankovsky in the main role and partially to Tarkovsky's co-screen
writer Tonino Guerra who worked with Federico Fellini.
The hero of Nostalghia is more
ordinary, more understandable and simpler than most of other
Tarkovsky characters with perhaps one exception: Kris Kelvin,
the astronaut in Solaris. Yet Kris finds himself in a situation
fantastic and because of this our ability to participate in his experiences
narrows appreciably. But nothing stands in the way to imagine ourselves
in the situation of Andrei Gorchakov, the poet in Nostalghia.
After all it is possible to experience nostalgia even without leaving one's
native land. For us nostalgia is yearning for the "genuine" image
of our homeland, it's the pain caused by our love for the native land
and at the same time by our hostility toward it. We know that
we have reasons to feel close to our homeland but we are unable to
really love it, contemplating its horrifying depravation. The most
powerful and distressing kind of love, one that keeps tormenting
and agonizing us, is the impossible love, love-despair, love-pain,
Andrei Gorchakov is yearning for something he has power neither
to express nor explain, nor do something worthwhile for
his love's sake. He seeks to express
his feelings, he searches for an action able to absorb full force
what he is enduring. As an educated and rational man he wants his
action to have at least some practical meaning. Domenico, a former
mathematician, a striking example of a "strange" character in
Tarkovsky's films, somehow attracts, pulls Andrei in, but also
repels him with his dubious logic. (The characteristic example
of Domenico's non-standard logic — his conviction that
unity added to unity again yields unity — is the polar opposite
of Western individualistic ethics.) Andrei is asking himself for
what purpose would one want to walk across an empty pool with
a candle in one's hand, what could this accomplish. Gorchakov
is a wholly modern man and he does not believe in demonstrations
and ritual actions. However, Domenico's horrible death in flames
at Rome's Capitol Hill in full view of the indifferent passerbys
forces Andrei to return again to the absurd last will of the mad
suicide and understand that the point is not at all in the ritual,
not in the symbolic act — the point is in himself, in his
split conscience. Even a useless act, it would seem, can bear its spiritual
fruit, bring warmth, melt ice within the soul, lift a burden up
from one's shoulders. The not so easy, as it turns out, journey across
St. Margarita's pool became Andrei's last action on earth,
completed in the name of his own tormented soul.
And here again one wants to think about Tarkovsky. About his love for
apocalyptic imagery and wild conversation. And about connected
with all this his affinity to Dostoyevsky. Tarkovsky's characters
are clearly more emancipated, tired, sceptical, and indifferent
as befits people living at the end of the millennium, in the
century which "gifted" humanity with decades of unimaginable
nightmares. The horror of those years was left behind and yet
the poet Gorchakov is so indifferent to the unearthly beauty
of Italy (and, by implication, to other people) that this
alienation drives his preoccupation with "the accursed fundamental
He already knows that these questions cannot be resolved and they
keep tormenting him God knows why but there is no escaping them.
It's impossible to return to the luxury of a bored traveller's
sweet slumber. The careless manner with which Gorchakov lets the unfinished
cigarette drop to the Italian pavement — it's a significant
detail bringing to one's mind the untranslatable verse from the
celebrated rock musician: "Jesus doesn't want me for a sunbeam".
As Jonah of the Old Testament could not escape his prophetic
mission behind the seven seas, so the one whose cheerfulness
was not pleasing to Jesus could not run away from his anguish.
Tarkovsky's characters are engaged in their neverending dialogue
with Dostoyevsky's heroes. They search for peace and faith in the
situation where everybody knows that God is dead but nobody remembers
anymore that He rose again. The glad tidings dissolved
in the darkness of the ages. "And I swore that if I manage to
travel from my native empire, first thing I shall go to Venice,
stay in a ground floor room of some palazzo so the waves from
the passing boats would splash in my window, write a couple of
elegias, extinguishing cigarettes into the damp stony floor,
I'll cough and drink, and when the money is about to run out
instead of the train ticket I'll buy a tiny Browning
and blow my brains out right on the spot, unable to die
in Venice from natural causes." This is not Gorchakov writing
but Brodsky whose
body is resting at the cemetery San Michele in Venice... but
don't these words ring in harmony with the spiritual condition
of the hero of Nostalghia?
In a manner similar to that of his hero and of Brodsky, Tarkovsky
died far away from his motherland, in Paris...