Annie Epelboin

Andrei Tarkovsky on The Sacrifice

The original French-language version, A propos du Sacrifice, appeared in Positif, May 1986, p. 3–5. From an interview with Andrei Tarkovsky by Annie Epelboin, in Paris, March 15, 1986. This English translation is taken from the programme booklet The Sacrifice, An Artificial Eye Release, release date Friday 9th January, 1987. A brief excerpt is also found in the Swedish Film Institute programme booklet, pg. 4.

Today the world is developing on a strictly material plane. The evolution of contemporary society is now totally empirical and, in the final analysis it has divested itself of every trace of the spiritual. If one considers reality as a tangible, material order of things, then one has to expect from it only immediate effects, things one can touch with one's hands. Consequently, if man finds himself confronted solely by empirical givens, be it on a social, political or technical plane or on that of his own lived experience, the results can only be dreadful and life itself becomes impossible. For we cannot live without allowing ourselves room for spiritual development: even the most dull-witted brute can understand that - or at least feel it to be so. With his universe shrinking and its harmony destroyed, man has no longer any reason for living.

It was out of such ideas that I decided to make The Sacrifice. The sole means of returning to a normal relationship with life is to restore one's independence vis-a-vis the material things of life and consequently reaffirm one's spiritual essence. In this film I deal with one of the aspects of this struggle for anyone living in society: the Christian concept of self-sacrifice. If one has never known such a feeling, never experienced such a desire, then, as far as I am concerned, one ceased to be a man, one begins to revert to the animal condition and becomes a strange machine, an object to be experimented with by society and the state. On the other hand, if one acquires a moral autonomy, one may discover within oneself a capacity for self-sacrifice.

I realise that such ideas are not very respectable today, as no one has the slightest intention of sacrificing anything in his life, but it isn't possible to do otherwise if one hopes to save onself spiritually.

In this respect, the Soviet Union is already beyond redemption; and even in Western Europe people seem to take a delight in surrendering their own personalities in the belief that something will be gained by creating a so-called `new society.' In the Soviet Union I had already gone my own way, but you can imagine my astonishment when I realised that the same thing was happening here, all the more so that it was happening in an atmosphere of material well-being. That's why the film rather goes against the grain of all the latest intellectual tendencies in the West. The Western infatuation with certain new ideas is a form of moral and spiritual suicide. In the Eastern bloc people are condemned to such an existence. but nothing over here has forced anyone to adopt it.

These reflections were at the origin of my wish to make The Sacrifice. As for the formal dimension which I wanted it to have, it's perhaps closest to the elegy, the parable, insofar as it functions on several different levels. Each of its episodes not only carries the weight of reality but offers more than one layer of meaning. By contrast with my earlier film, it retains a certain poetic style but treats each episode in a more dramatic fashion. In Nostalghia for instance, apart from two or three sequences, what happened was naturalistic, Corresponding to the sort of thing one might find in life. Here it's the contrary: though the episodes are filmed as if they were realistic, they are conceived as parables.

I am, I confess a religious man. For me. man is not in himself the end result of Creation. Before claiming to contribute to the development of humanity, he must realise that he is dependent on God. We ask ourselves why we are also faced with a spiritual crisis in the cultural domain, in the arts and, in particular, the cinema. The latter is in a fearful condition. Ten or twelve years ago, there were still films being made with a moral, human dimension. Today. all that has come to an end. The only thing that preoccupies filmmakers is the fabrication of a product that can be sold on the marketplace. There are really very few - and the situation is even worse in television - who are prepared to finance personal films. Films d'auteur.

What interested me in this film was showing a man who was capable of self-sacrifice. Sometimes that can become distressing, even for his own family and friends. This is a man who has understood that, to redeem himself, it has become indispensable to efface himself. Even on a physical level one has to rise to another level of existence. When one is hungry, one goes to a shop and buys something to eat; but when one is truly depressed, in a kind of spiritual crisis. there Is nowhere to go, except to sexologists and psychoanalysts who have no understanding of what is going on inside one. They are voyeurs and chatterboxes, who console you, soothe you and cost you the earth. They are charlatans, but terribly fashionable charlatans. My protagonist can no longer go on living as he had done before and he commits an act that may have been born out of despair but which demonstrates to him that he is still free. Any such act is likely to appear absurd on the material plane, but on the spiritual plane they are magnificent as they create the possibility of a rebirth.

If I believe that our civilisation will die of its material progress, it is not because of the physical consequences but rather because of what will happen to our spiritual beings. Even in the event of a war the havoc wreaked on earth or in space is not necessarily serious since it would only be a question of material destruction. Mankind can survive that, but not generalised socialism. Look at Sweden. for instance, no spiritual life, no interest in anything. They have everything they could ever want, and yet they are empty. This notion that everyone is equal: the baker. the publican, the film-maker, all of them equal in the sight of the tax collector, etc.... That's why Baergman left. In France it's different. but sooner or later it will come to the same thing. The French have a more artistic temperament. but it's only a question of time... It is only in the sight of God that we are equal, not in that of our fellow men.

In my films one often finds the theme of language, whether present or absent. The fact is that the power of speech which has been given us has an absolutely extraordinary influence. It can inspire us to great or evil actions. And yet, these days, it has lost its value. The world is jam packed with empty chatter. All that information of which we pretend to have such need - consider radio and television - all those permanent infinite debates to be found in newspapers, all that is empty and meaningless. We imagine that, to survive, man has to know all kinds of things which in fact he does not need in the slightest; it's a strictly useless kind of knowledge. We shall all die beneath the weight of this garrulous information. In reality, it is better to act than to speak. As for the words, the phrases, with which we communicate - and this applies to art - they ought to be divested of all trace of passion. It is in the nostalgia that we feel for the Olympian principle, for its coldness, its classical sobriety, that resides the magic, the secret, of the great metaphysical masterpieces.

Obviously, the artist himself is a creature of passion, but he dilutes that passion in the forms that he creates. In any case, inserting one's own emotions in a work of art is always vulgar. That's why I am so attracted to Oriental art; or else Bach, who is an ideal representative of art, or Leonardo da Vinci. Though each man most be Capable of expressing himself that he must channel his self-expression does not imply having publicly to produce a book or a film. It is this human vanity which is so typical of the West and which is not to be found in the Orient whose philosophy demands that man withdraw into himself, that he be introverted rather than the reverse. All that is required, to express oneself, is the sense that one is a creature fashioned by the hands of the Creator; whereas the man who regards himself as the ultimate stage of Creation feels obliged to express himself publicly. It isn't surprising, then, that he should feel trapped. He will never find the solution to his problems along such a path. It's a form of contemporary hysteria. The central idea of my film The Mirror was to expose the hysteria which consists in wishing, at whatever the cost, to speak out and to express oneself. It's madness. Everyone desires fame simply as a source of comfort.  end block

back navigation
[ Top ] [ Links ] [ Bibliography ] [ Documentaries ] [ Graphics ] [ Photos ] [ Diaries/Memoirs ] [ Topics ] [ News ] [ Home ]