In 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky told Leonid Kozlov about his favorite films. Tom Lasica recently talked with the critic.
Source: Sight and Sound, March 1993, Volume 3, Issue 3. All rights are reserved
by Sight and Sound and The British Film Institute (BFI). The article is
reproduced on Nostalghia.com with the kind permission of the Sight and
Sound Publishing Manager. We are also indebted to Jon Lomax and Nick Wrigley for
diligently tracking down the article for us, ploughing through huge piles of Sight and Sound back-issues,
and for providing us with the below high-quality scan.
Note that Tarkovsky's list was first printed in Kinovedcheskie zapiski 14, 1992.
Nostalghia.com has obtained a scan of the original page — it may be viewed here.
I remember that wet,
grey day in April 1972 very well. We were sitting by an open window and
talking about various things when the conversation turned to Otar
Ioseliani's film Once Upon a Time There
Lived a Singing Blackbird.
"It's a good film," said Tarkovsky and immediately added,
drawing out his words, "though it's, well, a little bit too...
too..." He fell silent with the sentence half finished, his eyes
screwed up. After a moment of intense reflection, he bit his
fingernails and continued decisively, "No! No, it's a very good
It was at this point that I asked Tarkovsky if he would compile a list
of his favorite ten or so films. He took my proposition very seriously
and for a few minutes sat deep in thought with his head bent over a
piece of paper. Then he began to write down a list of directors' names
- Buñuel, Mizoguchi, Bergman, Bresson, Kurosawa, Antonioni,
Vigo. One more, Dreyer, followed after a pause. Next he made a list of
films and put them carefully in a numbered order. The list, it seemed,
was ready, but suddenly and unexpectedly Tarkovsky added another title
- City Lights.
This is the final version of the list he made:
- Le Journal d'un curé de campagne
- Winter Light
- Wild Strawberries
- City Lights
- Ugetsu Monogatari
- Seven Samurai
- Woman of the Dunes (Teshigahara)
After the list had been typed and signed "16.4.72 A.
Tarkovsky," we returned to our conversation, during which he quite
naturally changed the subject and started with his gentle sense of
humor to talk about something of no importance. Looking back at the
list today, 20 years on, it strikes me how clearly his choices
characterize Tarkovsky the artist.
Like the numerous top ten lists submitted by directors to various
magazines over the years, Tarkovsky's list is highly revealing. Its
main feature is the severity of its choice - with the exception of City
Lights, it does not contain a single silent
film or any from the 30s or 40s.
The reason for this is simply that Tarkovsky saw the cinema's first 50
years as a prelude to what he considered to be real film-making. And
though he rated highly both Dovzhenko and Barnet, the complete absence
of Soviet films from his list is perhaps indicative of the fact that he
saw real film-making as something that went on elsewhere. When
considering this point, one also needs to bear in mind the polemical
attitude that Tarkovsky became imbued with through his experience as a
film-maker in the Soviet Union.
For Tarkovsky, the question lay not in how beautiful a film-maker's art
can be, but in the heights that Art can reach. The director of Andrei
Rublov strove for the most profound
spiritual tension and extreme existential self-exposure in all his work
and was ready to reject anything and everything that was incompatible
with this end. His list, which includes three films by Bergman,
undoubtedly reflects his taste both as a director and as a viewer - but
the latter is subordinate to the former.
As the way he began to compile his top ten shows, this is not only a
list of Tarkovsky's favorite films, but equally one of his favorite
directors. Tarkovsky's and Bergman's "elective affinity" was
noted long time ago, well before Sacrifice.
But Bresson's film does not come top of the list by chance: Tarkovsky
considered him to be a supreme creative individual. "Robert
Bresson is for me an example of a real and genuine film-maker... He
obeys only certain higher, objective laws of Art.... Bresson is the
only person who remained himself and survived all the pressures brought
It would seem to me that the unexpected appearance of City
Lights in the list can be explained
similarly. What mattered most to Tarkovsky was not so much the film's
cinematographic achievements or any philosophical points it made, but
rather the comprehensive nature of Chaplin's self-realization as a
director. "Chaplin is the only person to have gone down into
cinematic history without any shadow of a doubt. The films he left
behind can never grow old."
The essence of Tarkovsky's top ten films shows nothing less than his
own manifesto for authorial film-making.