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Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky ( ) (April 4, 1932 - December 29, 1986) was a Russian filmmaker, writer, film editor, film theorist and opera director.

Tarkovsky's films include Andrei Rublev, Solaris, The Mirror, and Stalker. He directed the first five of his seven feature films in the Soviet Union; his last two films were produced in Italy and Sweden. They are characterized by spirituality and metaphysical themes, extremely long takes, lack of conventional dramatic structure and plot, and memorable cinematography.

Ingmar Bergman said of him: "Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream".


Childhood and early life

Tarkovsky was born in the village of Zavrazhye in Kostroma Province, the son of poet and translator Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky, native of Kirovohradmarker, Ukrainemarker, and Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, a graduate of the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute.

Tarkovsky spent his childhood in Yuryevetsmarker in the Ivanovo Provincemarker. He was described by childhood friends as active and popular, having many friends and being typically in the center of action. In 1937, his father left the family, subsequently volunteering for the army in 1941. Tarkovsky stayed with his mother, moving with her and his sister Marina to Moscowmarker, where she worked as a proofreader at a printing press. In 1939, Tarkovsky enrolled at the Moscow School № 554. During the war, the three evacuated to Yuryevetsmarker, living with his maternal grandmother. In 1943, the family returned to Moscow. Tarkovsky continued his studies at his old school, where the poet Andrey Voznesensky was one of his classmates. He learned the piano at a music school and attended classes at an art school. The family lived on Shshipok Street in the Zamoskvorechye Districtmarker in Moscow. From November 1947 to spring 1948, he was in a hospital with tuberculosis. Many themes of his childhood - the evacuation, his mother and her two children, the withdrawn father, the time in the hospital - feature prominently in his film The Mirror.

Following high school graduation, from 1951 to 1952, Tarkovsky studied Arabic at the Oriental Institute in Moscow, a branch of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Although he already spoke some Arabic and was a successful student in his first semesters, he did not finish his studies and dropped out to work as a prospector for the Academy of Science Institute for Non-Ferrous Metals and Gold. He participated in a year-long research expedition to the river Kureikye near Turukhanskmarker in the Krasnoyarsk Provincemarker. During this time in the Taiga Tarkovsky decided to study film.

Film school student

Andrei Tarkovsky in his student film The Killers.
Upon return from the research expedition in 1954, Tarkovsky applied at the State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) and was admitted to the film-directing-program. He was in the same class as Irma Raush, whom he married in April 1957.

The early Khrushchev era offered unique opportunities for young film directors. Before 1953, annual film production was low and most films were directed by veteran directors. After 1953, more films were produced, many of them by young directors. The Khrushchev Thaw opened Soviet society and allowed, to some degree, Western literature, films and music. This allowed Tarkovsky to see films of the Italian neorealists, French New Wave, and of directors such as Kurosawa, Buñuel, Bergman, Bresson and Mizoguchi. Tarkovsky absorbed the idea of the auteur as a necessary condition for creativity.

Tarkovsky’s teacher and mentor was Mikhail Romm, who taught many film students who would later become influential film directors. In 1956, Tarkovsky directed his first student short film, The Killers, from a short story of Ernest Hemingway. The short film There Will Be No Leave Today and the screenplay Concentrate followed in 1958 and 1959.

An important influence on Tarkovsky was the film director Grigori Chukhrai, who was at teaching at the VGIK. Impressed by the talent of his student, Chukhrai offered Tarkovsky a position as assistant director for his film Clear Skies. Tarkovsky initially showed interest, but then decided to concentrate on his studies and his own projects.

During his third year at the VGIK, Tarkovsky met Andrei Konchalovsky. They found much in common as they liked the same film directors and shared ideas on cinema and films. In 1959, they wrote the script Antarctica - Distant Country, which was later published in the Moskovskij Komsomolets. Tarkovsky submitted the script to Lenfilm, but was rejected. They were more successful with the script The Steamroller and the Violin, which they sold to Mosfilm. This film became Tarkovsky’s diploma film, earning him his diploma in 1960 and winning first prize at the New York Student Film Festival in 1961.


Film career in the Soviet Union

Tarkovsky's first feature film was Ivan's Childhood in 1962. He had inherited the film from director Eduard Abalov, who had to abort the project. The film earned Tarkovsky international acclaim and won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1962. In the same year, on September 30, his first son Arseny (called Senka in Tarkovsky's diaries) Tarkovsky was born.

In 1965, he directed the film Andrei Rublev about the life of Andrei Rublev, the 15th century Russian icon painter. Andrei Rublev was not immediately released after completion due to problems with Soviet authorities. Tarkovsky had to cut the film several times, resulting in several different versions of varying lengths. A version of the film was presented at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker in 1969 and won the FIPRESCI prize. The film was officially released in the Soviet Union in a cut version in 1971.

He divorced his wife, Irma Raush, in June 1970. In the same year, he married Larissa Kizilova (née Egorkina), who had been a production assistant for the film Andrei Rublev (they had been living together since 1965). Their son, Andrei Tarkovsky Jr., was born in the same year on August 7.

In 1972, he completed Solaris, an adaptation of the novel Solaris by Stanisław Lem. He had worked on this together with screenwriter Fridrikh Gorenshtein, as early as 1968. The film was presented at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker and won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury and the FIPRESCI prize and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. From 1973 to 1974, he shot the film The Mirror, a highly autobiographical film drawing on his childhood and incorporating some of his father's poems. Tarkovsky had worked on the screenplay for this film since 1967, under the consecutive titles Confession, White day and A white, white day. From the beginning the film was not well received by Soviet authorities due to its content and its perceived elitist nature. Russian authorities placed the film in the "third category" which meant severe limitations on its distribution, allowing it to be shown only in third class cinemas and workers' clubs. Few prints were made and the filmmakers received no returns. Third category films also placed the filmmakers in danger of being accused of wasting public funds, which could have serious effects on their future productivity. These difficulties are presumed to have made Tarkovsky play with the idea of going abroad and producing a film outside the Soviet film industry.

During 1975, Tarkovsky also worked on the screenplay Hoffmanniana, about the German writer and poet E. T. A. Hoffmann. In December 1976, he directed Hamlet, his first and only stage play, at the Lenkom Theatre in Moscowmarker. The main role was played by Anatoly Solonitsyn, who also acted in several of Tarkovsky's films. At the end of 1978, he also wrote the screenplay Sardor together with the writer Aleksandr Misharin.

The last film Tarkovsky completed in the Soviet Union was Stalker, inspired by the novel Roadside Picnic by the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Tarkovsky had met the brothers first in 1971 and was in contact with them until his death in 1986. Initially he wanted to shoot a film based on their novel Dead Mountaineer's Hotel and he developed a raw script. Influenced by a discussion with Arkady Strugatsky he changed his plan and began to work on the script based on Roadside Picnic. Work on this film began in 1976. The production was mired in troubles; improper development of the negatives had ruined all the exterior shots. Tarkovsky's relationship with cinematographer Georgy Rerberg deteriorated to the point where Tarkovsky hired Alexander Knyazhinsky as a new first cinematographer. Furthermore, Tarkovsky suffered a heart attack in April 1978, resulting in further delay. The film was completed in 1979 and won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker.

In the same year Tarkovsky also began the production of the film The First Day (Russian: Pervyy Dyen), based on a script by his friend and longterm collaborator Andrei Konchalovsky. The film was set in 18th century Russia during the reign of Peter the Great and starred Natalya Bondarchuk and Anatoli Papanov in the main role. To get the project approved by Goskino, Tarkovsky submitted a script that was different from the original script, leaving out several scenes that were critical of the official atheism in the Soviet Union. After finishing shooting of roughly one half of the film, the project was stopped by Goskino, after it became apparent that the film differed from the script submitted to the censors. Tarkovsky was reportedly infuriated by this interruption and destroyed most of the film.

Film career outside the Soviet Union

During the summer of 1979, Tarkovsky traveled to Italy, where he shot the documentary Voyage in Time, together with his longtime friend Tonino Guerra. Tarkovsky returned to Italy in 1980 for an extended trip during which he and Tonino Guerra completed the script for the film Nostalghia. During 1981 he traveled to the United Kingdom and Sweden. During his trip to Sweden he had considered defecting from the Soviet Union, but ultimately decided to return because of his wife and his son.

Tarkovsky returned to Italy in 1982 to start shooting Nostalghia. He did not return to his home country. As Mosfilm withdrew from the project, he had to complete the film with financial support provided by the Italian RAImarker. Tarkovsky completed the film in 1983. Nostalghia was presented at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker and won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, the FIPRESCI prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. Soviet authorities prevented the film from winning the Palme d'Or, a fact that hardened Tarkovsky's resolve to never work in the Soviet Union again. In the same year, he also arranged the opera Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera Housemarker in Londonmarker under the musical direction of Claudio Abbado.

He spent most of 1984 preparing the film The Sacrifice. At a press conference in Milanmarker on July 10, 1984, he announced that he would never return to the Soviet Union and would remain in the West. At that time, his son Andrei Jr. was still in the Soviet Union and not allowed to leave the country.

During 1985, he shot the film The Sacrifice in Sweden. At the end of the year he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In January 1986, he began treatment in Parismarker, and was joined there by his wife and his son, who were finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union. The Sacrifice was presented at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker and received the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, the FIPRESCI prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. As Tarkovsky was unable to attend due to his illness, the prizes were collected by his son, Andrei Jr.

In Tarkovsky's last diary entry on December 15, 1986, he wrote: "But now I have no strength left - that is the problem". The diaries are sometimes also known as Martyrolog and were published posthumously in 1989, and in English in 1991.

Tarkovsky died in Parismarker on December 29, 1986. He was buried on January 3, 1987 in the Russian Cemeterymarker in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois in Francemarker. The inscription on his grave stone, which was created by the Russian sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, reads: To the man who saw the Angel.

A controversy emerged in Russia in the early 1990s when it was alleged that Tarkovsky died not of a natural cause but was assassinated by the KGBmarker. Evidence for this hypothesis include several testimonies by former KGB agents, who claim that Viktor Chebrikov gave the order to radiate Tarkovsky in order to prevent what the Soviet government and the KGB saw as anti-Soviet propaganda by Tarkovsky. Other evidence were several memos that surfaced after the 1991 coup and the claim by one of Tarkovsky's doctors that his cancer could not have been a natural cause.

As Tarkovsky, his wife Larisa Tarkovskaya and actor Anatoli Solonitsyn all died from the very same type of lung cancer, Vladimir Sharun, sound designer in Stalker, is convinced that they were all poisoned when shooting the film near a chemical plant.


Tarkovsky is mainly known as a director of films. During his career he directed only seven feature films, and three short films during his time at the film school. He also wrote several screenplays, directed the play Hamlet for the stage in Moscow, the opera Boris Godunov in London, and directed a radio production of the short story Turnabout by William Faulkner. He also wrote Sculpting In Time, a book on film theory.

Tarkovsky's first feature film was Ivan's Childhood in 1962. He then directed in the Soviet Union Andrei Rublev in 1966, Solaris in 1972, The Mirror in 1975 and Stalker in 1979. The documentary Voyage in Time was produced in Italy in 1982, as was Nostalghia in 1983. His last film The Sacrifice was produced in Sweden in 1986. Tarkovsky was personally involved in writing the screenplays for all his films, sometimes with a co-writer. To Tarkovsky a director who realizes somebody else's screenplay without being involved in it becomes a mere illustrator, resulting in dead and monotonous films.


Numerous awards were bestowed on Tarkovsky throughout his lifetime. At the Venice Film Festival he was awarded the Golden Lion. At the Cannes Film Festivalmarker he won several times the FIPRESCI prize, the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury. He was also nominated for the Palme d'Or two times. In 1987, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film to The Sacrifice.

Under the influence of Glasnost and Perestroika, Tarkovsky was finally recognized in the Soviet Union in the fall of 1986, shortly before his death, by a retrospective of his films in Moscow. After his death, an entire issue of the film magazine Iskusstvo Kino was devoted to Tarkovsky. In their obituaries, the film committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and the Union of Soviet Film Makers expressed their sorrow that Tarkovsky had to spend the last years of his life in exile.

Posthumously, he was awarded the Lenin Prize in 1990, one of the highest state honors in the Soviet Union. In 1989 the Andrei Tarkovsky Memorial Prize was established, with its first recipient being the Russian animator Yuriy Norshteyn. Since 1993, the Moscow International Film Festival awards the annual Andrei Tarkovsky Award. In 1996 the Andrei Tarkovsky Museum opened in Yuryevetsmarker, his childhood town. A minor planet, 3345 Tarkovskij, discovered by Sovietmarker astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina in 1982, has also been named after him.

Tarkovsky has been the subject of several documentaries. Most notable is the 1988 documentary Moscow Elegy, by Russian film director Alexander Sokurov. Sokurov's own work has been heavily influenced by Tarkovsky. The film consists mostly of narration over stock footage from Tarkovsky's films. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky is 1988 documentary film by Michal Leszczylowski, an editor of the film The Sacrifice. Film director Chris Marker produced the television documentary One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich as an homage to Andrei Tarkovsky in 2000.

Tarkovsky is widely considered to be one of the greatest film makers of all time. Ingmar Bergman was quoted as saying: "Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [of us all], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream". Film historian Steven Dillon claims that much of subsequent film was deeply influenced by the films of Tarkovsky.


Tarkovsky became a film director during the mid and late 1950s, a period during which Soviet society opened to foreign films, literature and music. This allowed Tarkovsky to see films of European, American and Japanese directors, an experience which influenced his own film making. His teacher and mentor at the film school, Mikhail Romm, allowed his students considerable freedom and emphasized the independence of the film director.

Tarkovsky was, according to Shavka Abdusalmov, a fellow student at the film school, fascinated by Japanese films. He was amazed by how every character on the screen is exceptional and how everyday events such as a Samurai cutting bread with his sword are elevated to something special and put into the limelight. Tarkovsky has also expressed interest in the art of Haiku and its ability to create “images in such a way that they mean nothing beyond themselves.”

In 1972, Tarkovsky told film historian Leonid Kozlov his ten favorite films. The list includes: Diary of a Country Priest and Mouchette, by Robert Bresson; Winter Light, Wild Strawberries and Persona, by Ingmar Bergman; Nazarin, by Luis Buñuel; City Lights, by Charlie Chaplin; Ugetsu, by Kenji Mizoguchi; Seven Samurai, by Akira Kurosawa, and Woman in the Dunes, by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Among his favorite directors were Luis Buñuel, Kenji Mizoguchi, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Akira Kurosawa, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean Vigo and Carl Theodor Dreyer.

With the exception of City Lights, the list does not contain any films or directors of the early silent era. The reason is that Tarkovsky saw film as an art as only a relatively recent phenomenon, with the early film-making forming only a prelude. The list has also no films or directors from Tarkovsky's native Russia, although he rated Soviet directors such as Boris Barnet, Sergei Paradjanov and Alexander Dovzhenko highly.

Although strongly opposed to commercial cinema, in a famous exception Tarkovsky praised the blockbuster film The Terminator, saying its "vision of the future and the relation between man and its destiny is pushing the frontier of cinema as an art". He was critical of the "brutality and low acting skills", but nevertheless impressed by this film.

Cinematic style

Tarkovsky's films are characterised by Christian and metaphysical themes, extremely long takes, and memorable images of exceptional beauty. Recurring motifs are dreams, memory, childhood, running water accompanied by fire, rain indoors, reflections, levitation, and characters re-appearing in the foreground of long panning movements of the camera.

Tarkovsky included levitation scenes into several of his films, most notably Solaris. To him these scenes possess great power and are used for their photogenic value and magical inexplicability.

Water, clouds, and reflections were used by him for its surreal beauty and photogenic value, as well as its symbolism, such as waves or the form of brooks or running water.

Bells and candles are also frequent symbols. These are symbols of film, sight and sound, and Tarkovsky's film frequently has themes of self reflection.

Tarkovsky developed a theory of cinema that he called "sculpting in time". By this he meant that the unique characteristic of cinema as a medium was to take our experience of time and alter it. Unedited movie footage transcribes time in real time. By using long takes and few cuts in his films, he aimed to give the viewers a sense of time passing, time lost, and the relationship of one moment in time to another.

Up to, and including, his film The Mirror, Tarkovsky focused his cinematic works on exploring this theory. After The Mirror, he announced that he would focus his work on exploring the dramatic unities proposed by Aristotle: a concentrated action, happening in one place, within the span of a single day.

Several of Tarkovsky's films have color or black and white sequences, including for example Andrei Rublev which features an epilogue in color of religious icon paintings, as well as Solaris, The Mirror, and Stalker, which feature monochrome and sepia sequences while otherwise being in color. In 1966, in an interview conducted shortly after finishing Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky dismissed color film as a "commercial gimmick" and cast doubt on the idea that contemporary films meaningfully use color. He claimed that in everyday life one does not consciously notice colors most of the time. Hence in film color should be used mainly to emphasize certain moments, but not all the time as this distracts the viewer. To him, films in color are like moving paintings or photographs, which are too beautiful to be a realistic depiction of life.

The natural elements play a large role in Tarkovsky's films. The soundtracks often contain the sounds of water dripping while the earth seems to be perpetually damp. Fire and water are usually represented together, the burning barn from The Mirror and candle in Nostalghia being two examples. The Mirror, Stalker, and Nostalghia all contain scenes in which one or several characters lay on the earth in contemplation. Wind is also used often in The Mirror. This emphasis of moments in nature, as well as the theory of "sculpting in time" has been cited by the remodernist film movement as a major influence on their own ideas on filmmaking.


  1. Title quote of 2003 Tarkovsky Festival Program, Pacific Film Archive
  2. Marshall, Herbert. Sight and Sound. Vol 45, no 2. Spring 1976. p. 93.
  3. (In Russian) Мир и фильмы Андрея Тарковского, Сост. А. Сандлер. М., издательство: Искусство, 1990.
  4. Komsolmoskaya Pravda, "New Tarkovsky documents surface", 15. September 1995, page 23.
  5. Tarkovsky, Andrei. Sculpting in Time. Trans. Kitty Hunter-Blair. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2003.
  6. "Remodernist Film", MungBeing, October 4, 2009 Retrieved October 5, 2009


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