Lars-Olof Löthwall

Daily Rounds with Andrej Tarkovskij

First published in Filmrutan, Spring Issue, vol 29, 1/86, pp 2 - 8. Also published in Polish, in Powiekszenie, vol. 1/2, Cracow 1987, pp. 177-185. An excerpt appeared in Scandinavian Film News, vol 6, no 1, May 1986. The current version was translated from the Swedish language by Trond S. Trondsen, Translated and reproduced here with the permission of the author. Black and white photos © by Lars-Olof Löthwall, color team photo © by Arne Carlsson. All photos used with the personal permission of the photographers.

"On the first day, Andrej Tarkovskij smashed a bottle of champagne against the camera rails. On the last day, he performed Rock-n-Roll for his friends in the film team. In between, there were 80 days of the daily grind while working on the set of The Sacrifice. This is the story of some of these days — days filled with hard work, days entirely void of intellectual nonsense and lofty Theories of Art. On the contrary: these were days of incantations and magic..."

Filmrutan 1/86 Tuesday, 30th April 1985; Stockholm

Sleet, wind, cold, slush, very early morning. Assembly in the studio corridor at The Film House (Filmhuset), tired drawn faces, slightly uneasy. The first real day of filming with Andrej Tarkovskij who bounces around in padded overall, blonde interpreter at his side.

Haga Manor outside Enköping sounds impressive indeed!

Nothing could be less impressive than the sight that greets us after an hour's ride in minivans. Dilapidated roofs, broken windows, rude grafitti scrawled on walls, stucco-work, and across coats of arms.

T darts about, seemingly pleased in the midst of this misery of caved-in plaster ceilings and damp limestone floors.

The first take is a long dolly shot. Erland Josephson lies asleep on an iron bed with filthy coverings. He wakes up - as in a dream, which it may very well be, and sees his image mirrored in the puddles on the floor, through three different doors.

The double is Mathias Henrikson, Josephson's colleague from the Royal Dramatic Theater (Dramaten). They're incredibly alike. Mathias has to run between the rooms. T's camera tracks for a very long time, but the distance between the three doors is great.

Sven Nykvist, who has a back which is the last one which should be mistreated - a back well-known among all the best chiropractors - is asked to assume the most impossible positions so as to compose the images that T wants.

T is satisfied after five takes.

Upstairs, equally - if not more - ramshackle, a frieze has to be photographed. Sven sets his lights. T thinks it should be more level. They talk - in Italian - and finally agree. T excuses himself before the next picture, which he wants to find just the right angle for.

Sven prepares the picture. After a while, T returns. Over by the window he finds a dead butterfly. He moistens his fingers, picks up the butterfly, and puts it delicately on the frieze where an empty vodka bottle also stands, the legacy of uninvited guests.

Above: A fresco of the angel Gabriel driving Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Exterior shot: Another dolly shot in the snow after the naked feet of a child. A small boy waiting with his father. Tommy. He is six years old and has got a bad cold.

A lot of preparation. Dreams. The camera is pointing at the ground, the clay with its puddles and reflections. T lays down some old newspapers, tears out from a book some pictures of the polar explorer Nordenskiöld, pulls out some foreign coins, carefully arranges everything into a big water-puddle which the camera will pass over.

The grip, Daniel [Bergman], asks what it's all supposed to symbolize.

T appears somewhat puzzled.

"Don't ask me about symbols. This is the stuff dreams are made of..."

The take of the dream sequence is technically very complicated; slow, subjective camera. Erland follows - in the role - his young son who has disappeared. It is a dark dream, perfectly matching reality around us. The final images show the boy's bare feet, a flame burning away the snow, and then a pan up towards a shed where the doors are thrown open as in an explosion.

The little boy is lifted down into the snow by his father, is informed that he must remain absolutely still during the crucial seconds. He does as he is told, he is then pulled away, as a stunt man "creates" the flame using a flame thrower.

Tommy gets to do this three times, and then he must return inside, where it is warm. The team wants coffee. T wants pictures. The team "wins."

T does not seemed perturbed at all in his ambition, is intent on filming, having his fingers into every minute detail, very conscientious, painstaking. At all times friendly. It takes time to get to know each other.

The images turn out well. T rubs his hands together, not just because of the cold. The Manor, its over-grown park, is like hell in the slush. T wants wet hells.

He appears pleased.

Saturday, 4th May 1985; Gotland

"We have to tamper with nature. We must manipulate it to suit our pictures," says T through his interpreter.

T walks around the house at Närsholmen looking at everything - angles, the height of the picture, the shape of the logpile, the position of the drawn-up boat. He changes the fence a little... always on the move, like a fluttering swallow, out, back again, out and back again...

Sunday, 5th May 1985; Gotland

Early meeting with Erland and the producer in the hotel's dining room. Smalltalk, Erland dressed up for his role. T arrives, smiling he suddenly strokes Erland's hair, asking, "You slept in your stage clothing last night, right?"

None of us can figure out if he's being serious.

The weather is gray and cold, but T's barometer shows that improvement is on its way, which to him is not good.

The producer tells about what Ingmar Bergman did when he was young, and her as well.

"He walked about, pointed towards the Earth's interior, and said: 'I give You one day of my life if I get my weather - now!' He no longer gives such promises, he's become so much older. But he often did receive such 'help'."

T phones Moscow and talks with his dog, according to the interpreter.

He has spoken with the part of his family that has been left behind, you see. He is incredibly fond of his son. He loves his dog.

The part about speaking to his dog... nobody laughs about that.

Monday, 6th May 1985; Gotland

Get up at 04:30, start 06:00, which turns out to be far too late in the nordic lighting. The morning scene T wants to shoot cannot be done. He shakes his head and coughs over and over again.

It turns out - we eventually discover - that the cough is the only visible indication of him being irritated.

T requests of the property master an egg for the scene. Upon receiving it he asks, "Is this the largest one you could find?"

Someone in the team - in irritation, not interpreted: "Can he tell that it hasn't been boiled?"

Out in the yard there sits a pump, in the midst of puddles of water. To create the correct nuance for the next image, the props personnel pour black, muddy water onto the surrounding grass. It has to be black - otherwise the moisture won't be visible. T constantly helps out.

T always helps out.

Tuesday, 7th May 1985; Gotland

A gale wind is blowing as we in the early light of dawn arrive on location at 04:00. Everybody, possibly with the exception of the driver, is asleep during the long journey, but is subject to a rude awakening courtesy of some enormous pot holes in the final few hundred meters of the road.

T is delighted, it is exactly the light he wants; very quickly, everything is rigged up and made ready for the first take.

T and Sven have found each other, like identical twins, all distractions gone.

The rest of us hardly notice the passing of time; it is hard not to notice the frigid temperature. Almost some sort of kinship between us and T, whom we cannot quite talk to as to a friend, but whom we suddenly feel like we have known for years.

Allan Edwall quotes Gene Hackman: "To watch a film by Tarkovsky is like waiting for an oil painting to dry." [Edwall is wrong — the quote refers to a Rohmer film, and is found in Night Moves -Ed.]

Erland, after T has finished modifying a particular image composition for the third time: "Say what you want about T, but at least he's not too stubborn to change his mind!"

Tuesday, 2nd July 1985; Gotland

Summer - but still bitterly cold across our wetlands.

Busy tearing down the rear of the house. Tomorrow, it's going to burn. Two English special-effects men, along with their Swedish helpers, are busy preparing for the event.

T is being himself, fluttering back and forth as a sandpiper, picking, choosing, rejecting, choosing,...

The balcony is on fire, more so than what the fireman permits - but it is effectively extinguished.

Wednesday, 3rd July 1985; Gotland

The fire has been put off. Instead, the complicated scenario, the image, wherein the house will burn and fall and Erland will have a breakdown, is prepared.

The scene is repeated ten times, it demands extensive choreography in a wide frame that zooms in to a closeup and back out again. It now takes six minutes and thirty seconds, will be shot using three cameras.

During the last rehearsal the ambulance stops working... we are four who rush in to deal with the situation during the pause between two takes. It turns out that it is out of gasoline.

The assistant director explains how she is close to a nervous breakdown and a heart attack, but is happy this didn't happen tomorrow. Then there will be no opportunities for second takes.

Fortunately for her, she is not able to look into the future.

T is amazing - this scene is repeated for four hours straight, and he is continually in motion without showing signs of fatigue, nor irritation, when things don't work out exactly they way he wants.

Thursday, 4th July 1985; Gotland

Today is the day it is going to happen, what has been planned in minute detail, what everybody is looking forward to as the central scene of the movie. Seven men have been working on the preparations for the burning of the house, several hundred meters of pipeline have been laid down, 1,400 liters of kerosene is waiting in a tank, compressor with cabling, fuses have been placed for many kilos of explosives that will make the house collapse at just the right moment, walls have been prepared so as to prevent everything from burning down in mere minutes.

Fifty flasks of liquified petroleum gas are attached to the pipeline system. Three firemen and a fire truck are present for safety reasons, the camera tracks are laid down, three cameras have been checked and loaded.

T once again instructs the actors in boots and raincoats. During the night large portions of the house were torn down - outside of the view of the camera - so that the fire will behave perfectly. It has been allotted its own timeline. It took more than a month to build the house.

All appears immaculately prepared right down to the finest detail, the clouds are stacking up across the sky, the light appears to be perfect. The wind is southeasterly, there is no risk that the greasy smoke from the kerosene will coat the camera lenses.

Of course it is tense. The executive producer, whose orders may normally be mistaken for suggestions, now snaps if anyone moves as much as one step too far. Everything is ready for the 55 meter long journey that Sven will undertake with the fine new camera, newly refurbished and fine tuned by the German manufacturer after a breakdown at the start of the shooting. It is a camera which requires accuracy, apparently a marvel in precision.

The scene is now, after multiple rehearsals, compressed down to five minutes and nineteen seconds; one moving camera (Sven's), one fixed camera, i.e., no pans, and one spare camera with its own motion timetable.

The moment has arrived: "Fire!"

The special-effects supervisor from England pushes the first button on his instrument console, which looks like a musician's soundboard. The first flames emerge from the house.

The well-known song speaks about a "house in the flames of fire..."

It turns out to be more than a flaming fire, more like a blazing welder's arc standing straight up in billowing black smoke. It is a perfectly fascinating scene, the cameras are rolling and the cast is acting away...

Suddenly: anxiety. Sven Nykvist yells for another camera and his assistant screams, "The spare, dammit!!!" The cameraman comes running with his camera, and with lightning speed the cameras are switched.

It has happened, what was never supposed to happen,... that the camera lost speed. T, who had prepared for doing everything in one take, rehearsed for days on end...

It is difficult to paint an accurate picture of what transpired afterwards. Great anxiety - but also great restraint - on the part of the cast, which now basically has to improvise based on T's orders, as is is now impossible to stop the fire... Cables are on fire.... the ambulance drives away according to the rehearsed pattern, though both people inside know what has happened.

There was screaming, yelling, it was extinguished, it was ignited - all in a terrible chaos during the span of a few minutes, long as purgatory, but still way too short.

There were photographs taken.

Sven just shook his head, over and over again. T coughed and coughed, everyone in despair. It was an atmosphere of resignation which cannot be described, as it felt like more than words can possibly describe. It spread across this large group of, actually very optimistic, men and women that has worked very, very, very hard and long with something that was to be something extremely grand,and then it ends up being a total failure.

The cost of building the house was more than a half million Swedish crowns, it took ten minutes for it to burn down - for those who are interested in the statistics of it. If the scene is to be perfect - and it is important - it has do be done all over again.


It is hard to find anything more to say about that particular day. I, normally seated at a desk, went around with a sledgehammer and crowbar and tore up rails. Carried and hauled. Everybody worked, everybody who had any strength left. Those who had no strength worked anyway, so as to vent their despair.

Left behind, there were only the chimney and some charred beams.

In the evening we still take the traditional group photograph. We actually succeed in saying "cheese" with a glint in or eyes, as the galgenhumor had now taken over.

Wednesday, 10th July 1985; Gotland

Shooting not so far from the lighthouse, beautiful scenery, which reminds one of an African savanna. It is one of the few warm summer days this year, there is a light and uplifted atmosphere.

Again there is a long tracking sequence, the continuation of the fire. Enland is sent away in the ambulance, sees his little son water the Japanese tree they put together. Simultaneously, the witch, Maria, is to follow on a black bike. It is a journey of more than 60 meters, with precision motion and pans; as usual T is the most captivating choreographer one can possibly imagine.

T is also in a great mood, sits with Tommy in his lap, telling stories through the interpreter.

Today glad tidings arrived that the house is to be re-built. Film workers, the best of the best, will come in from Stockholm.

In the afternoon we all pick wild flowers, the name of the most luminous one being Sunrose, not because we're happy - which we are - but because it is supposed to look like it hasn't yet been summer. T himself is picking, he is not the kind of person who loads work onto others without himself participating. The children of the cast and crew - it is summer vacation and many have brought their children along - have been summoned to take part in the picking.

T also lays down rocks around the Japanese tree, in exactly the way he wants them arranged. It is all carefully adjusted - we all know how he can precisely style any bush...

Thursday, 18th July 1985; Gotland

T rehearses the fire scene over and over again, the house stands there like a Phoenix Bird. He has altered the set somewhat since the previous time, tightened it up a bit. Also, he has two cameras running in parallel, one camera about half a meter above the other. Sven says he prefers to use the upper, but T wants the lower camera, which he considers to produce the best images. The other one is a spare, just in case it happens again, what is not, is never, allowed to happen again. Ever.

As usual, it's a labor of precision, right down to the millimeter. Incredible as it may sound, the margins are extremely narrow in spite of the wide angle of the shot.

T rearranges his juniper trees, they were chopped elsewhere and are loose, and the water pools are topped up, and some are covered up. How the cast is to move around, how the photographers are to do it is still not clear - but there is no sense of unease. There is such a thing as professional attitude.

That same night, an evening of singing together at the hotel; it is a quiet, lovely Swedish summer night, better than those of tourist brochures. We who tomorrow are to burn down another house hear the music through our open bedroom windows, most of us have gone to bed. We have to get up again at two in the morning.

Friday, 19th July 1985; Gotland

It is dark on the location of the shoot, breakfast is served in candlelight, in a luke warm, light night breeze.

T drills, drills his cast and takes pictures. The light of dawn is slowly getting brighter behind the house, in the direction of Djaupdy, the wind is towards the bay and lightly ripples the surface of the water.

By the house firemen and Lasse, the film assistant, works on the preparations for the fire, while T darts back and forth, adjusts a curtain. As usual, it's all in the details.

Just when we think everything is ready Sven states that there is lensflare. We have to wait for an hour.

Night turns into anticipation of daybreak. The cast is chatting with us in the usual manner, T issues some final instructions, there is some tension below the surface, but no panic.

The fireman, who has the sole responsibility for the new fire appears uneasy. The wind is increasing and turning sourtheast, if it gets hold of the fire it's going to get out of control. The 20 minutes now allotted for two takes may very well be reduced to 12.

The prolonged wait fades into loud uncontrolled laughter. T asks if there is a desire for another rehearsal, but it is agreed that it is not necessary. Some final whispered instructions on what to do if things don't go the way they are supposed to.

"No more than five minutes left," Sven Nykvist says.

Maybe they look like soldiers prior to the attack, everybody silently taking their positions. It is very quiet.

There are many stories surrounding the moment when T orders "Fire!" and the house lights up into a truly marvelous spectacle, that have nothing to do with deception or trickery. It is high drama.

T orders "Camera!" and it turns into a phenomenal scene with all cameras humming away in perfect shape - except that there is no time for a Take 2. That becomes obvious pretty early on, but as nothing seems to be going to hell, everybody seems content.

The intention is that the moment the scene is completed everybody is supposed to rush back to their starting positions and do it all over again. T shouts that they stay in their final positions, where Susan Fleetwood in despair has collapsed down on her knees on the water soaked ground. T is envisioning another image which he quickly translates into words, shouts that Sven Wollter is to lift Susan, carry her towards the camera.

"Stay in character, come towards us!", he shouts.

Sven lifts this woman - who probably weighs more than 65 kilograms in her heavy, wet clothes - off the ground and carries her a distance of a hundred meters towards the camera, followed by the others, a strenuous walk.

For one last time Sven pans towards the burning house, which at that very moment collapses. T has found favor with heavenly powers.

"Thank you!"



The girls start to weep. The producer is crying hard, everybody do, also Larissa, T's wife who has been with us for the last few days. Everybody hugs everybody, really squeezing each other.

The fireman is congratulated for his fantastic effort and T floats across the wetlands, ecstatic.

It is a mood for which there is no descriptive word.

Team photo! With glowing embers as backdrop. There is a subdued happy atmosphere, a mutual understanding, smalltalk.

Five hours have passed, not one minute wasted.

Same afternoon at ten past five, as the thunder rolls over by Råne harbor and the first heavy drops of rain start falling, T concludes the shooting of The Sacrifice with the eleventh take of a final close-up of Erland in sitting in the grass in a pine grove. T throws his cap high up in a pine, where it gets stuck.

Apart from that, it's been a tiresome afternoon.

The shooting is taking place in a grove of trees, it is only Erland and Tommy. This is a very patient six-year-old, does almost exactly what T wants him to do, but as he's concerned with almost every single straw of grass, he is a hard one to please. Kicki, the property master, a giddy, happy, clever, quick girl misunderstands him and removes a long straw of grass by the boy's face.

T turns around with despair and resignation in his eyes... but, a moment later sobers up, and laughs.

In the evening there is the goodbye-party; craziness, wonders, T sings, everybody doing their little speeches.

Arrived, finally.

* * *

There is a lot of talk about wizardry, in particular about the strange fact that ten minutes after the great scene of the day had been shot - a scene in which a central role is held by a black bicycle with balloon tires - one of these tires explodes, but not a soul in the vicinity.

T has a pact with the supernatural.  end block

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