Layla Alexander Garrett
Andrey Tarkovsky — Enigma and Mystery
We are thankful to Layla Alexander Garrett for providing us with
an electronic version of the article via email, and for permitting us to make
it a permanent feature of Nostalghia.com.
This article was translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens.
It has been previously published in About Andrei Tarkovsky: Memoirs and Biographies,
Progress Publishers, 1990, ISBN 5-01-001973-6, under the title of
Secrets and Sacraments of Andrei Tarkovsky. First published (in Russian) in Kino,
Vol 26, No. 10, 1992.
"If you should ever write about me, be sure you don't make me out to be
an impossible director - a tyrant. I've heard enough of that in my lifetime.
Especially in Moscow where such rumours abounded..."
"What makes you think that I should write about you?" I asked in
"Wait and see. You'll do so. Think about what I've said then. When I'm
dead, someone is bound to know what it was like working with
Tarkovsky. You'll see."
And so it was. I have now been asked to write a book about Andrey,
about working with him on his last film, about the last two years of his
life. At the time I regarded his prophetic words as something of an
unpleasant joke. "What are you saying! You've got so many fantastic
projects ahead of you - Hamlet, The Flying Dutchman, Hoffmanniana,
Rudolph Steiner, Saint Anthony... and you're talking about death!"
"I have to die sometime," he insisted, as though he wanted to see how I
would react. "Yes, we've all got to die sometime," I agreed and steered
the conversation off in another direction. Then, it was simply a joke...
Just before Christmas 1985, Andrey's last week in Stockholm, we
returned to his home after a visit to the Karolinska hospital without
obtaining an exact diagnosis, but with a premonition that it was
something more serious than merely bronchitis or pneumonia. And once
again he said with a serious and sad smile: "Don't write about me as if I
was some kind of statue, the "famous corpse" who all too soon left our
ranks... who "made the departure"... Don't write that he was this and that
but in fact entirely different. Others will write such things. You should
write about me as the person you have got to know, about what I meant to
you, personally. Don't be neutral in your judgements. Not ever!" then he
smiled. "This will be a lesson for the future; if you want to get anywhere
in the arts, if you want to learn how to make good films, never be
impersonal, never be afraid of the personal pronoun I..."
My acquaintance with Andrey began in Moscow in November 1981.
We met only for one evening. I was travelling through the capital as a
tourist, while Andrey was making preparations for his trip to Italy. We
agreed to meet at Mayakovsky Square. "How shall we recognise one
another? I asked, "I don't even have a photograph of you!"
"Don't worry," he said reassuringly. I'll recognise you."
And although the square was filled with crowds of people taking a stroll,
I recognised Andrey at once. He was a little late, which he apologised for,
then inviting me to the Film institute - Dom Kino.
The doorman stopped us at the entrance. "It's about time you learnt to
recognise your own directors." he said coldly and offended. He clearly
regarded the incident as unpleasant and embarrassing. Later in Sweden,
he could laugh about it: "Remember when they wouldn't let me into Dom
In this enormous auditorium sat a great number of people. He greeted
one or two, though his greeting was reserved and cool. Later he explained
to me that he had had great difficulties with the film in Italy. The Soviet
authorities had continually refused to issue him with a visa and allow him
to take along his son. "Here we have as many problems as mushrooms
sprouting up after the rain..." He smiled but behind the smile lay anger,
bitterness and disappointment. At that first meeting he seemed a very
tired and worn out man.
My friendship proper with Andrey began in Italy, in Rome, during the
filming of Nostalghia. We met there several times. I can well remember
our first meeting in Rome on May 21st, 1982. It was hot, we sat outside a
cafe on the Piazza Navona, Andrey's favourite square. It must be
mentioned that he was completely in love with Italy, with Rome and
especially with Tuscany. He had just begun work on Nostalghia and was
in a wonderfully spring-like mood. With him was Donatella Baglivo who
was making a documentary about Tarkovsky's visit to Italy and about his
work and life there. Later, Andrey said that these films (there are three in
all) lacked any special artistic value, but now after his death, vulture-like
distributors demand astronomical prices for them.
On that day in May we spoke a good deal about the occult. Andrey
introduced me to his Italian colleague as la strega, the sorceress or
witch. Surprised at the ensuing protests on my part, he asked me whether
I had anything against witches. The Russian word for witch vedma has
its origins in the verb vedat - to know, to be aware of, to have
knowledge about. And who, if not me, who was studying astrology, the
Tarot and mysticism and compiled computer horoscopes, could be a real
witch and modern as modern can be, to boot?
"You are in the possession of secrets!" he laughed and his companion
laughed too. "No don't worry, you're a white witch."
"I see thank you for that, at least", I replied.
"May God protect you from black witches!" he added. "Try to avoid
those at all costs."
I still do not know whether he was joking or serious. Presumably both.
The film The Sacrifice was originally entitled The Witch. But there
already existed a film of that name and the title in Swedish and English
had none of the connotations of "knowing" that the Russian word had, a
fact that Andrey thought essential. Later I got to know that in the first
version the protagonist, Alexander was incurably ill with cancer.
It is not for nothing that a true artist can always see his true destiny before
him and sometimes even the destiny of the whole of mankind! The
Sacrifice was screened almost to the day of that terrible disaster in the
Ukraine. The newspapers wrote that Tarkovsky had predicted the nuclear
catastrophe at Chernobyl. That that was what the film was supposed to be
When we met for the last time in Italy, he had already completed the
editing of Nostalghia. It had been a lot of work but he seemed satisfied.
There was something mischievous, something boyish about him. He rode
on the back of his assistant's moped and I can see him now sitting on the
pillion waving the script. "See you soon..." "Till next time..."
In September 1984, my work with Andrey began in earnest. The
telephone rang: "This is Andrey Tarkovsky. Can we meet?"
"Of course. Certainly. When?"
"Now, right now. If that's alright with you."
Andrey was staying on the Stockholm island of Djurgarden in a flat
which belonged to the film's production manager, Katinka Faragó. And
once more, another unforgettable encounter. Andrey read poems written
by his father, Arseny Tarkovsky. I particularly remember the first lines
of First Meetings:
Every moment that we were together,
Was a revelation, like Epiphany...
Every meeting with Andrey was like a revelation and not just for me, I
feel but for everybody who ever met him.
For an entire evening we listened to Lappish yoiks. These can hardly
be counted as songs but are shepherd's cries, wailing reminiscent of a
shaman's invocations. They occur in the film just as something
threatening or inexplicable is about to happen. This calling, this
captivating woman's voice can be heard both when Otto, the postman and
Alexander fall into "psychic trances" and similarly, when Alexander has
his apocalyptic dream.
I know of no other director who uses sound with such care, with such
a keen ear and with such an insight into the human psyche. So much
attention has been paid to light and lighting and so much written, that his
unique way of using sound has often been overshadowed. Andrey pointed
out on several occasions that even on first hearing a sound which to the
conscious mind may seem trivial may nevertheless make a deep
impression on the viewer - just as deep as anything visual. The trembling
of crystal, a coin rolling across the floor, the rustling of pages being
turned, the sound of wood being chopped, of feet sinking into clay and
rotting leaves, a purling of steam... all these attach themselves to and
remain in the memory of the viewer.
"Sometimes it is sound that defines the visual narrative and not vice
versa. A sound is more than a simple illustration of what is happening on
Andrey loved to experiment with sound. We often occupied ourselves
by throwing coins on the floor and listening for differences in resonance,
or by splashing all kinds of liquids over the floor - milk, water, Coca-Cola -
and noticed to our great amusement that nothing in this world
sounds the same!
"Teach yourself to listen to and to hear the sounds; understand that milk
has its sound, water another. It's only natural, isn't it? But we don't pay
any attention to the fact. And in a film it's important. Take water again.
Such an inexhaustable sound spectrum. Music pure and simple. And a
burning fire can sometimes become an entire symphony, sometimes a
solitary Japanese flute. Beech and pine burn differently, have a different
fragrance and also sound different. There's as great difference between
sounds as there is between colours. As I write this, it strikes me that no
one has taught me so much as did Andrey. And not only about film. He
taught me to look and listen to the world around me in a different way.
Like Castaneda's Don Juan about whom he always spoke with great
reverence. Andrey gave me a jolt and opened my eyes to the simplest and
most mundane phenomena behind which so many mysteries lay
"No there's nothing more beautiful and mysterious than simplicity. But
how to achieve this simplicity - that is the question!"
Being the diligent pupil that I was, I took every opportunity to get him
to tell about how to make a "good film". But every time I tried, he
shrugged his shoulders and said that this was something he simply could
not teach me.
"Personal experiences, can't be taught, can't be forced onto others. But
none the less, if you are a good pupil you can at least learn how not to
make bad films. Creating is like living - it is impossible to teach someone
to live well, but you can inspire them not to live badly. And its all so
beautifully described in the Bible.... Read the Bible! And we often read the
It was time for me to return home. Before departure, Andrey asked me
whether I was free the next few months or whether I had any
commitments. I was free until October when I was going to the Frankfurt
Book Fair. The reason for his asking I found out the following morning,
when I was rung up from the Swedish Film Institute and asked to come as
quickly as possible to work with Tarkovsky. Afterwards I noticed the fact
that Andrey almost never made direct requests. To work with Tarkovsky
was clearly not just my dream alone. And I never though it possible in my
case, especially after speaking with the producer Anna-Lena Wibom. She
told me quite categorically that there was not the slightest chance, that
Tarkovsky could only consider employing a male interpreter, as working
conditions would be too tough for a woman. Filming was to take place
during the "white nights" and everyone would have to get up between
three and four o'clock in the morning so as to catch the "magic hour"
which goes in Russian under the forbidding name of rhezhim. All
outdoor scenes were thus to be shot under this strict regime! And this
would be hard to endure even for a man.
After having had to come face to face with the impracticability of my
hopes, I met the production manager and listened to her complaints: "We
just don't know what to do," she said. "We get him the best professional
interpreters and he just goes and sends them away again. It's dreadfully
embarrassing. People come, we pay them and he then tells us that his
inner alchemy clashes with theirs. He doesn't feel there to be any
contact. We understand that the interpreter is his closest assistant, that he
must have one hundred percent trust in them, but what are we to do,
where can we find the man? We're so harassed we haven't been able to
get up to any serious work until now. As he himself asked us to ring you,
could we possibly count on you for the foreseeable future?"
"Most definitely," I replied, "but you should be aware of a couple of
facts. Firstly that I am not a professional interpreter and secondly, that it's
impossible, at such short notice, to change myself into a man."
She laughed. "As long as the alchemy works. And you have after all
studied film, which is no less important."
It was quite obvious that she was seriously troubled; she had been obliged
to spend a good deal of film money, financial aid scraped together with
such effort, without any tangible results. It can be no easy task holding
the purse strings for such an untameable director as Tarkovsky!
A whole week went by. Every morning they rang me, they sighed and
moaned, telling me that Tarkovsky had yet again rejected his latest
interpreter and that I must come immediately to get them out of their
"fix". In October, they asked me to cancel my trip to Frankfurt. Instead,
we travelled to London to find new actors. Luckily and thanks to David
Gothard Renaissance man-of-the-theatre, we discovered Susan Fleetwood
whom Andrey later regarded as an "exceptionally pleasant surprise".
The "preparatory period" came to an end, but even despite my
"alchemical compatibility" between me and Andrey and the whole team,
there was still talk of a male interpreter for the duration of the actual
filming! Andrey was convinced that a woman could simply not cope.
And this although the majority of the team consisted of women: the
Executive Producer, Anna-Lena Wibom; the Production Manager,
Katinka Faragó; the Assistant Director, Kerstin Eriksdotter; Continuity,
Anne von Sydow; Art Director, Anna Asp; Wardrobe, Inger Pehrsson;
Assistant Art Director, Kicki Ilander and many more.... He called them
the Bergman Ladies' Mafia, as all of them had, at some time or another,
worked for Ingmar Bergman. To me, who was the only one not belonging
to the "Mafia" he said that being his interpreter meant in the first place,
having nerves of steel and being constantly present and at maximum
"You'll never survive. I'm obsessed. I need ten interpreters and
assistants", he joked, which really put the cat amongst the pigeons in the
"department of finance". Anna-Lana Wibom's favourite phrase was:
"Sweden's only a small country. We just don't have the resources of the
Americans. There you ride around in a limousine and have ten assistants
just to film a cow. They can allow themselves that; they can afford it. We,
on the other hand, are a small country."
"Yes but, I don't need ten assistants and I can film the cow myself as
long as it doesn't go and butt me", said Andrey reassuringly. He was most
curious to find out the state of Swedish humour. He would soon find out,
I assured him...
I think Andrey began to trust me fully when we, towards the end of
the preparatory period, received the news that the film, in all probability,
was not going to go through as planned. The Japanese co-producers had,
for some totally incomprehensible reason, suddenly refused to take part in
the financing of the film. We were all in the doldrums, as this would in
practice mean that the film would be delayed for some time and that it
was time for us to "clear out." Andrey sat at the table tearing a sheet of
paper to shreds. He did this in a state of inner paralysis. Twice I saw him
in a similar state: this time, after receiving the news that the Japanese had
let us down and the other time after the fiasco with the scene where the
house is burnt down, where the English special effects group's
incompetence coupled with a bout of camera failure destroyed a unique
and valuable scene (the scene was luckily, re-shot successfully) which
will no doubt take place in the history of film as a brilliant example of a
On both occasions the reaction was the same: "It can't be true!" This
atmosphere of complete powerlessness, this feeling of paralysis made you
simply want to weep and fight, but instead I took my address book and
dialled David Gothard's number after having told Andrey that we must do
something and that one day the Japanese would regret their action, God
help them those Japanese... And once again, one great big thanks for
David's support, devotion and enthusiasm. His immediate suggestion
was: "Ring Jeremy Isaac's at Channel Four and tell him, on behalf of
Tarkovsky, what has happened. But ring right away, don't hesitate it's
At that time Jeremy Isaac's was Head of Channel Four. He needed no
explanations. It was perhaps the shortest and most fruitful "business call"
of my life: "You've got problems? That can only mean you need money.
Does Mr. Tarkovsky know how much? He doesn't ... we can stretch to a
million. Anyway, we'll see what we can do. Convey my best wishes to
"Look at Channel Four, look at Jeremy Isaac's, brilliant chaps. That's
what I call efficiency!" Andrey would say afterwards, holding them up as
a model. After that call we all breathed a sigh of relief and Andrey began
calling me his "personal producer" in praise of my initiative. But that is
how it must be in film. The making of a film cannot be chopped up into a
number of small, discrete compartments. Perfection in one's special field
is essential, but the whole should not be forgotten. And so the motto must
be: "All for one and one for all". That evening, we had a party and
Andrey said that he now had complete faith in me. His trust and faith
made me sprout wings! And we were close friends the whole of the time.
My work with Andrey did not limit itself to the official nine hours per
day. In the evening we would go somewhere to eat and perhaps visit the
cinema; another of my duties was to inform him of what was happening
in the world outside, i.e., what the papers said. Andrey kept apologising
for taking up much of my spare time not believing my assurances that it
was a real pleasure.
I soon found out that he was a superb storyteller. He would tell with
inspiration about his childhood, his "dear mama" as he would call her
lovingly, his father, the children, his sister Marina, life in Moscow,
meeting his friends, walking his dog, watching him constantly smoking
and drinking vodka... "You see, when I was young, I was entirely
different. I was angry, irascible, for one reason or another. I've mellowed
out in my old age. All his stories were filled with the most precise detail
as can be seen in his films, in every scene in every shot. Each morning
Andrey would ask me about the "heavenly bodies": "So what's happening
in the heavens today? Where's the Moon? What's the coming day got in
store for me? All this despite the fact he was reluctant, even afraid, of
knowing everything about his future. Both of us had the moon in Pisces
which usually means an especially well-developed sense of perception, a
rich fantasy life and prophetic dreams. But Andrey interpreted it so, that
we, like the symbol for Pisces were split in two: we want to do
everything, we swim hither but often end up staying where we are, so that
making a definite decision becomes one of the most difficult things in the
world. And that we, like fish, feel more than we can express in words.
Sometimes he used to say: "Are you not afraid? It's sinful to tear the veil
from such secrets. Why do you want to know what the future will bring? I
tried to explain that my interest in astrology and other occult phenomena
in no way meant that I wanted to see into the future, but that I wished to
understand what was happening to me, what motivated my actions, my
behaviour. If as the Russian writer Ivan Bunin thought - and we both
adored Bunin - the "I" is a part of nature, the I must react, respond to all
that occurs in nature. And life, in whatever form we take it to be, exists
beyond the confines of this planet. Furthermore, astrology has helped me
to be more tolerant towards people in general. Andrey always listened
attentively and I believe he agreed with my reasoning, even though he
opposed my idea of looking into the future. "But what about dreams", I
said standing my ground. "You've said yourself that your dreams often
come true." "Yes, that's a fact, but dreams are something altogether
different. Dreams are veritable mystery... the secret that lies behind half
of human existence. Just think, I sleep half my life away and when I'm
awake I rush off to make films. It's absurd!"
He was full of paradoxes. On the one hand, he was fascinated like no
one else with the problems of life and death, the existence of God,
anthroposophy, parapsychology; when later he became seriously ill he
spent a month at an anthroposophical clinic in Germany. On the other
hand, he felt it was not right to know too much, that there was something
pernicious and sinful about doing so. "Man shouldn't go poking his nose
into God's mysteries" he would say.
I want to tell about one particular dream which shows Andrea as a great
prophetic artist and a remarkable film director who succeeds in realising
his dreams, translating them onto the cinema screen.
And this I dreamt, and this I dream,
And this one day I'll come to dream again,
And all repeats itself, all reincarnate,
And you will come to dream that which I once dreamt...
One Sunday evening in summer, Andrey rang me to say that we were
going to have a most interesting confrontation with the producer the next
day. He had had a dream and wanted to film it. We should "arm
ourselves" with patience in order to persuade Anna-Lena to ease the
purse strings a little".
In the dream he saw himself lying dead on a sofa. Several people came
into the room and knelt down before him. He saw his mother in a mirror,
clothed in white like an angel. then he saw "a scene straight out of Freud":
a naked girl was chasing a cock. It was all just like a film in slow-motion.
He also saw a woman who sat at his feet; he thought it was someone he
knew but when she turned he saw that it was the face of a stranger.
Despite the multitude of foreseen and unforeseen problems, Andrey
succeeded in persuading the "department of finance" and the scene was
indeed filmed! In order to save money, the whole film crew were
transformed for the day into extras. During editing, Andrey only left part
of the scene in the final version. But it is of interest all the same as it was
filmed in one long take and in unusual lighting conditions in three-
movement sonata form.
Strindberg has called his chamber plays his "last sonatas". When he
wrote his "Ghost Sonata" he made use of Beethoven's d-minor Piano
Sonata No 2 in three movements. When I first saw the dream sequence, I
felt it to be a Tarkovsky-Nykvist "sonata for light". It begins in "daylight
tempo", moves over to another, "night light tempo", then returning to a
"morning light tempo". The whole episode is recorded in the documentary
Regij - Tarkovsky made by Andrey's editing assistant, Michal
When the German TV producer Ebbo Demant, whose documentary on
Tarkovsky is entitled In Search of Lost Time, saw the "dream scene" he
said: "But this is the most inimitable, fatalistic scene of the whole film!
Here he foresees his own destiny."
Today, people say that Tarkovsky knew that he was fatally ill. This is
not true. Andrey did not get to know how ill he was until December 1985,
exactly one year before he died. But how is the following fact to be
explained? When filming the apocalyptic scene of The Sacrifice, the
camera was standing but a few meters from the place where the Swedish
Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was later murdered, six months afterwards.
Ingmar Bergman writes his biography Laterna Magica that when a
film is not a documentary then it deals with dreams. It is for that reason
that Tarkovsky is the greatest of all film-makers. He moves quite
naturally in the realm of dreams. He also writes that Tarkovsky has the
ability to dramatise his dreams in that most difficult but none the less
most flexible, of art forms. "All my life, I have been banging on the door
of those rooms where he moves with such self assurance." In another
passage Bergman says: "Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who
invented a new language true to the nature of film as it captures life as a
reflection, life as a dream."
When I think about what it is that distinguishes Tarkovsky's films from
all others, what it is that sets him apart as a film director, then it seems to
be his ability to transfer his dreams onto film: "And you will come to
dream that which I once dreamt..." And we are left contemplating those
dreams. What else distinguishes him from other directors? His unusual
openness, the wish to share the visions and fantasies of his most private
world. He is honest and sincere in his art, in his artistic calling. He
touches on the problems of sages with the innocence and purity of a
child. He has no fear of asking those questions the answers to which
mankind will never find. But questions which must be asked! He is
disarming in his openness and audacity. Many directors use films as a
means of hiding from themselves and it is for this reason that they never
succeed in finding the key to the hearts and souls of their audience.
"We must be ourselves, we must find the courage to say - this is me, I am
like this." That was his artistic credo. And he often said too: "Never copy
nature. The artist must be like the Creator himself."
People often wonder how Andrey worked with his actors. Even though he
did not work with them in the traditional manner, his trust, understanding,
sensitivity and love for them is at a higher level than that of the
traditional round table discussions. Andrey repeated time and time again
that film is a mystery. The final result, the finished film must always
remain a riddle even to the director himself. "Otherwise it would simply
lack interest." "Film is like life, like love. And life - that wonder of
wonders - is an enigma full of secrets. We cannot explain why we are
alive, why we love. Sometimes we can explain why we hate, but as to
how we love, this we do not know, simply that without this love, life
would be an impossibility. Love is programmed into us from Above."
Andrey was different in that he was not embarrassed to discuss
concepts such as love, hate, jealousy, miracles and death. In the West,
especially among the English, it is not considered good form to discuss
such matters, they are avoided if at all possible. People delight in talking
about the weather, what they have just spent their money on or what they
have just heard on the radio sitting in a traffic jam in their car on the way
Between the actors and Andrey there arose an elusive type of contact;
he controlled their acting with "invisible reins". Language difficulties
were no hindrance, at times they could be a positive advantage. Often
actors trust their impeccable and unalterable technique. But with Andrey
this did not work. The actors had to rely on a sixth sense, had to become
extrasensory. Either you worked with complete enthusiasm or you found
yourself another director.
Luckily, the filming of The Sacrifice was no Tower of Babel even
though English, French, Italian and even Icelandic were to be heard apart
from Swedish and Russian on the set.
Andrey did not want to discuss too much with his actors, he aimed at
getting them to listen to their own subconscious, to their instincts to make
them feel. For him it was of no consequence whether an actor knew
"what the hero ate for breakfast".
"An actor must be like a sponge, sucking up everything", he would
We had a number of amusing episodes with the English actress
Susan Fleetwood, who played Alexander's wife, Adelaide. Her role was
an exceptionally difficult one and it was hardly surprising that she began
"fishing for answers" from Andrey. He called her "our intellectual".
Susan had had "perfect" English theatrical training. Andrey always knew
beforehand when there was trouble brewing and with whom. "I can see
Susan's going to come with one of her intellectual questions", he would
say. "She's always got to know! Tell her to stop interpreting her part
through the intellect and simply begin to feel!"
Several times he explained: "I've created Adelaide, I'm an author and
I'm a man. You're an actress and furthermore, a woman. You know better
what she feels. I believe in you. I'm not mad. Would I entrust her with
you if I had even the slightest doubts? I know that you won't make a hash
of the part." To me that seems the best compliment an actor can get from
a director: his faith in him. "Tell everybody I trust them 101%, but that I
still expect them to surprise me!"
It was no doubt for that reason that the process of choosing actors
became so complicated and, occasionally, painful both for Andrey
himself and those around him. We looked through literally thousands of
photographs of actors and actresses from different countries and met a
dozen or so personally, while there were, in actuality, roles for seven
adults and a boy.
Casting Alexander was no problem: Andrey had written the part for
Erland Josephson. The same went for the postman, Otto, whose part was
given to Allan Edwall. As for the maid, Julia, Andrey wanted to have
Pernilla Ostergren, a wonderful young Swedish actress, but alas, to his
great disappointment, she was unavailable as she was expecting a child.
Maria was chosen straight away from a photograph of Guðrún Gísladóttir,
an Icelandic actress who was acting in film for the first time. The
daughter, Martha, we discovered in a cinema auditorium at the premiere
of a film directed by Allan Edwall entitled "Åke and his World". Kerstin
Eriksdotter, the Assistant Director, caught sight of her immediately and
noted that she looked like a porcelain statuette. So Filippa Franzén, who
in truth resembles Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, but
in reality was a secondary school pupil, became an actress in Tarkovsky's
film. The most difficult parts to cast were those of the Doctor and of
Adelaide. Andrey wanted the Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård from the
Stockholm Royal Dramatic Theatre to play the part but unfortunately
they would not give him "leave of absence." But on literally the last day,
Andrey decided on Sven Wollter and so the search for the doctor was at
an end. It was then he finally decided to take Susan Fleetwood as
Adelaide and the French actress Valérie Mairesse to play Julia. But a whole
book could be written on the search for the boy.
"Between me and you there must exist a secret", he would say to his
actors. "It's not the idea that you should know everything. You must be in
a state of uncertainty and anticipation; everything must be unexpected,
surprising. You must be like people in love." He often used to say that he
was against actors reading the script. "How can you act sincerely if you
know right from the start that you are going to die in the last scene? That
means that everything that takes place in between becomes a falsehood".
At a number of press conferences and in interviews Andrey
maintained that it was boring to film. I think he was partly provoking the
journalists and critics, not really being able to believe in them. He said
that, best of all, he liked to fantasise forth his scenes, travel around on the
lookout for locations for his forthcoming film. But when the actual period
of filming began, then he wished he were a gardener planting flowers
somewhere or other with Tuscan peasants. He used to use the analogy of
a tailor. A film director is like a tailor. It is extremely interesting to invent
a new dress, think out a new design, draw it, choose colour and material,
cut it out, conjure up a hat, gloves, shoes, a brooch, flowers... But then
sewing on the buttons, sewing the hem, starching and ironing it - that is
sheer drudgery. And it was the analogy of sewing on the buttons that
Andrey used about the actual filming. Despite the fact that not a day
would go by without him coming up with something new.
As a child, he wanted very much to become a new Bach; later when he
to his great disappointment realised that this was impossible, he wanted
to become a conductor, then a film director. But when it was time to
make the film he wanted to become a gardener. I had to laugh, assuring
him that even if he were to be a gardener he would come running back to
make a film after six months. "Sooner", he said with a laugh. Andrey was
simply in love with the cinema. It was his most incurable disease, his
passion. Making a film being director - this was no mere job, mere career
for him. It was his life.
My last meeting with Andrey took place in Paris. When Sven Nykvist,
Anna-Lena Wibom and myself first came, in January 1986, Andrey could
hardly manage to get out of bed. We had an edited version of The
Sacrifice to show him. As soon as the video tape began running and
images appeared on the screen, he immediately livened up and the
bedridden patient once again became the familiar "untameable"
Tarkovsky who wasted no time in giving us dozens of new instruction,
assignments, advice and directions. He was his old self again and was as
happy as a sandboy.
The French documentary director, Chris Marker, filmed our meeting. I
was curious to see whether he has managed to capture the unique
metamorphosis that took place when love of and dedication to one's own
creation transforms a sick man into an inspired creator, full of soulful
optimism, inspiration and faith. Andrey had a coloured kerchief knotted
around his head: "I look like a pirate in this", he joked. And he did indeed
look like a pirate searching for his Treasure Island. For him the film was
that Treasure Island. Andrey called his son, Andryusha, sat him on the
bed next to him and held his hand the whole film through. Andryusha
was seeing the film for the first time. It seemed very odd and painful to
watch them there as they sat, strangers in a foreign land. Andyusha, who
did not understand a word, sat transfixed like a bird, following every
movement on the screen with silent concentration. It was clear that they
were both tense, and so were we. It was a very touching scene, the father
the creator of the film, handing down his artistic testament to his son to
whom he had dedicated it.
Andrey would no doubt laugh at my comparison, but I can imagine it
was in this way that Socrates sat, surrounded by his disciples who were
full of sorrow and pain, while he, himself continued to philosophise
unabated on virtue and the Call of Duty, that most noble of ethical
concepts, on Absolute Knowledge and Faith, while occasionally, as if in
passing, commenting on the effects of the poison.... The last time I saw
Andrey was on the 19th March 1986. he looked healthy enough to
attempt a short stroll. He came to the showing arranged by the French
producer, Anatole Dauman. He seemed satisfied, we all cracked jokes
and laughed and Andrey reminisced about Gotland, saying it had been the
happiest and least worrying time, despite all the troubles and difficulties
we had to endure. He very much wanted to show Andryusha that "magic
isle". "Look what a son I've got," he said, proudly. "He's got to see
Sweden, especially Gotland, and also visit Helsingör (Elsinor), Hamlet's
Every nation has its premonitions and omens which can be believed or
ignored. In Russia, it is said that saying farewell over the threshold brings
bad luck. When we said farewell over the threshold, we both came out
with the saying simultaneously, but burst into laughter: "We're like old
crones...We'll meet again....Until next time.... We're not superstitious...".
"Of course we'll meet again," I replied although I felt desperately sad. We
were not fated to meet again and yet again the "next time", as he put it...
The very last time I spoke to Andrey was the week before he died. A
friend of his rang me conveying a message and leaving the number of the
clinic where Andrey was staying. It was early in the morning and luckily
the nurse was willing to go to Andrey's room and arrange for him to be
put through. The conversation was one of the most absurd, tragic and
sorrowful I have ever had in my life. And one of the most intimate. His
voice was hardly recognisable, only his manner of speaking was the
same. He said that he found great difficulty in concentrating, he was
losing his grip on the connection of his thoughts; everything was as if in a
dream. I wanted to say something important, but words seemed
meaningless and unnecessary. "Do you remember how we found that
wild strawberry patch on Gotland..? Perhaps it was the same one
Bergman found... Ask him... You've still got the stones...?" I could feel
him smiling at the carefree days of last summer. "Come over and visit
me..." "See you soon..." "Till next time..." were his last words.
When I think of the literal meaning of the word "enthusiasm,"
enthusiasmos, which in Ancient Greek means "possessed by, inspired by
a God," I see before me Andrey. When he created film, he was obsessed
with and inspired by God. And this holy gift he sacrificed to his audience.
I have been fortunate to stand beside the great artist, a great man, a great
spirit. My eternal gratitude and love to the Great Master, Andrey
Stockholm, April 1988