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Ivan's Childhood ( ), sometimes released as My Name Is Ivan in the US, is a 1962 Russianmarker film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is based on the 1957 short story Ivan ( ) by Vladimir Bogomolov, with the screenplay written by Mikhail Papava and an uncredited Andrei Tarkovsky. The film features child actor Nikolai Burlyayev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgeni Zharikov, Stepan Krylov, Nikolai Grinko and Tarkovsky's wife Irma Raush.

The film tells the story of orphan boy Ivan and his experiences during World War II. Ivan's Childhood was one of several Soviet films of the late 1950s, such as The Cranes Are Flying and Ballad of a Soldier, that looked at the human cost of war and did not glorify the war experience as did films produced before the Khrushchev Thaw.

Ivan's Childhood was Tarkovsky's first feature film. It won him critical acclaim and made him internationally known. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1962 and the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1962. Famous filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Sergei Parajanov and Krzysztof Kieślowski praised the film and cited it as an influence on their work.

Plot

The background of Ivan’s Childhood is the Eastern front during World War II, when the Soviet army was fighting the invading German Wehrmacht. The film features a non-linear plot with frequent flashbacks.

After a brief sequence that turns out to be a dream, Ivan Bondarev (Nikolai Burlyayev), a 12-year-old Russian boy who is the focus of the story, wakes up and crosses a war-torn landscape to a swamp from which he makes his way across a river. On the other side, he is seized by Russian soldiers and brought to the young Lieutenant Galtsev (Evgeny Zharikov), who interrogates him but is rebuffed by the boy, who insists that he call "Number 51 at Headquarters" and report his presence. Insulted by the boy's insolent attitude, he is reluctant, but when he eventually makes the call, he is told by Lieutenant-Colonel Gryaznov (Nikolai Grinko) to give the boy pencil and paper to make his report, which will be given the highest priority, and treat him well. Through a series of dream sequences and conversations between different characters it is revealed that Ivan’s parents and his sister have been killed by German soldiers. He however got away and joined a group of partisans. Sometime later the group was trapped in a forest surrounded by German troops. To keep Ivan out of their hands they put him on a plane. After the escape he was sent to a boarding school, but he ran away and joined an army unit under the command of Gryaznov.

In the army unit Ivan insists on fighting on the front line. Taking advantage of his small size he is able to get reconnaissance jobs for which grownups would be unsuitable. Ultimately Gryaznov and the other soldiers want to send him to a military school. They give up their idea as Ivan resists being sent away from the front line, up to the point where he tries to run away from the army unit and join the partisans. The film also reveals that the reasons for Ivan’s determination to fight are his desire to avenge the death of his family and others, such as those killed at the Maly Trostenets extermination campmarker (which he mentions that he has seen).

The film also depicts the lives of the soldiers that Ivan meets, and a subplot involves Captain Kholin (Valentin Zubkov) and his aggressive advances towards the army nurse Masha (Valentina Malyavina). Much of the film is set in an army dugout where the officers await orders, planning assaults and talking apparent trivia while Ivan impatiently and nervously awaits his next reconnaissance mission.

Towards the end of the film, Kholin and Galtsev ferry Ivan across the Dnepr so that he can attempt a dangerous reconnaissance over the front line. He disappears through the swampy forest and the rest of the group returns to the other shore after cutting down the bodies of two scouts hanged by the Germans. The final scenes of the film then switch to Berlinmarker under Soviet occupation after the fall of the Third Reich. One of Ivan's former officer friends finds a Nazi prison where a document shows that Ivan was caught and executed by the Germans. As the officer reaches the execution room, we see a final flashback of Ivan's childhood: Ivan runs across a beach after his sister in beautiful sunlight. The film's final image is that of a dead tree on the beach.

Production

Ivan's Childhood was Tarkovsky's first feature film, shot two years after his diploma film The Steamroller and the Violin. The film is based on the 1957 short story Ivan ( ) by Vladimir Bogomolov, which was translated into more than twenty languages. It drew the attention of the screenwriter Mikhail Papava, who changed the story line and made Ivan more of a hero. Papava called his screenplay Second Life ( ). In this screenplay Ivan is not executed, but sent to the concentration camp Majdanekmarker, from where he is freed by the advancing Soviet army. The final scene of this screenplay shows Ivan meeting one of the officers of the army unit in a train compartment. Bogomolov, who is not satisfied with this ending, intervenes and the screenplay is changed to the original version of Bogomolov.

Mosfilm gave the screenplay to the young film director Eduard Abalov. Shooting was aborted and the film project was terminated in December 1960, since the first version of the film drew heavy criticism from the arts council, and the quality was deemed unsatisfactory and unusable. In June 1961 the film project was given to Tarkovsky, who had applied for it after being told about Ivan's Childhood by cinematographer Vadim Yusov. Work on the film resumed in the same month. The film was shot for the most part near Kanivmarker at the Dnieper River.

Tarkovsky continued his collobaration with cinematographer Vadim Yusov, who was the cameraman in Tarkovsky's diploma film The Steamroller and the Violin. Nikolai Burlyayev had played a role in Andrei Konchalovsky's student film The Boy and the Pigeon. Konchalovsky was a friend and fellow student of Tarkovsky at the State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK), and thus Burlyayev was also cast for the role of Ivan. He had to pass several screen tests, but according to Burlyayev it is unclear whether anyone else auditioned for the role.

Responses

Still from the last of Ivan's reveries


Ivan's Childhood was one of Tarkovsky's commercially most successful films, selling 16.7 million tickets in the Soviet Union. Tarkovsky himself was not pleased with the film; in his book Sculpting in Time, he criticizes Nikolai Burlyayev and writes at length about subtle changes to certain scenes that he regrets not implementing.However, the film received numerous awards and international acclaim on its release, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It attracted the attention of many intellectuals, including Ingmar Bergman who said: "My discovery of Tarkovsky's first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease."

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an article on the film, defending it against a highly critical article in the Italian newspaper L'Unita and saying that it is one of the most beautiful films he had ever seen. Filmmaker Sergei Parajanov and Krzysztof Kieślowski praised the film and cited it as influence on their work.

References

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