Andrei Tarkovsky interviewed by Natalia Aspesi (Cannes, 1983)

That Gentle Emotion that is a Mortal Illness for us Russians

The following is a transcript of an interview with Andrei Tarkovsky conducted by Natalia Aspesi at Cannes, 1983. Reference: La Repubblica, May 17, 1983. The interview was translated from Italian into English exclusively for by David Stringari of Fairfield, Connecticut, U.S.A.

ASPESI: Are you indifferent to awards?

TARKOVSKY: If I answered yes, I would be a liar. It would be like a writer saying that he doesn't care at all wether he is read or not. Films are made in order to be seen, and if Nostalghia were to win here at Cannes I would be very happy. Nostalghia was conceived, filmed, and produced in Italy, but it is the most Russian of my films.

How do you find staying in Italy?

I like it very much. It is the only country where I could remain for a long period of time. I wouldn't be able to stay for longer than a week anywhere else. Nevertheless, I'm going back to Moscow at the end of the month. I can't live for long far away from my land, from my people. I have many projects. I will have to decide. I am thinking above all about a film based on Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. My culture was formed, was nurtured, from the great Russian writers. Like them, I experience the dramatic condition of struggling to reconcile material life and spiritual life.

Is it true that you viewed Nostalghia only once before bringing it here to the Cannes Film Festival?

Yes. And I was extremely pleased with it. I feel that it is my most successfully realized film, the one that best expresses my interior world. The protagonist even became my alter ego of sorts. He contains all my emotions, my psychology, my nature. He is my portrait in the mirror.

Why don't you want to talk about your film?

That's not accurate. I don't wish to recount the plot of the film, which, in and of itself, means nothing. What interest is there in knowing that it deals with a Russian writer who comes to Italy to carry out research about a countryman of his, an artist about whom all traces were lost two centuries ago, and that he encounters an Italian professor and a blond translator? But I can try to explain what the film tries to say. It is the expression of an emotion, the one that is most deeply rooted in me, that I have never felt so strongly as when I left the Soviet Union. It is for this reason that I say that I could have filmed Nostalghia only in Italy. And we Russians, for us nostalghia is not a gentle and benevolent emotion, as it is for you Italians. For us it is a sort of deadly disease, a mortal illness, a profound compassion that binds us not so much with our own privation, our longing, our separation, but rather with the suffering of others, a passionate empathy.

Where do you situate Nostalghia in the context of your body of work?

Nostalghia is an extremely important film for me. It is a film in which I have managed to express myself fully. I must say that it has confirmed for me that cinema is a truly great art form, capable of representing faithfully even the most imperceptable movements of the human soul.

What struck you most upon seeing, even if only once, your completed film?

Its almost unbearable sadness, which, however, reflects very well my need to immerse myself in spirituality. In any case, I can't stand mirth. Cheerful people seem guilty to me, because they can't comprehend the mournful value of existence. I accept happiness only in children and the elderly, with all others I am intolerant.

In a career that spans over 23 years, why have you made only six films?

Because I have only made the films that I wanted to make, and these required considerable financing. Now, being over fifty years of age, I begin to pose to myself the problem of this sort of prudence, of avarice, of mine. Perhaps I now must hurry, I must work more, say everything.  end block

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