Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky (2009, Trakovsky)

Quiet and understated as it is, Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky is a highly personal attempt at summoning a seemingly dead cinematic spirit. Dmitry Trakovsky’s quest to locate Andrei Tarkovsky in the immediate present goes far beyond a simple search for his “influence” or “following”. What Trakovsky sets out to achieve is to find out the ways in which Tarkovsky is still alive, and that’s why the movie’s single act of formal daring may be its beautiful, if misleading title. Instead of “searching” or “remembering” Tarkovsky, this new documentary hints boldly at his persistent, real, and this-wordly presence. The latter may manifest itself in memories others have of Tarkovsky, but it also finds a material dimension in his son Andrei Andreevich. Finally, and most poignantly, the filmmaker points to numerous people whose life choices were forever altered by encountering Tarkovsky’s films. As we’re watching the serious, unsmiling and yet serene face of a young Orthodox monk, as he’s declaring Tarkovsky’s work as the single most decisive factor in his choice of becoming a man of cloth, it’s hard not to think of Tarkovsky as still living through the existence of this man.

Structurally, the movie is conceived a series of encounters rather than as a multi-voiced narrative created in the editing room. In effect, we’re dealing with specific people rather than with floating clusters of themes – each interview has its own dynamic and we never come back to a person once they’re finished telling their story. This simple device allows us to feel the vocal rhythms of particular interviewees, and makes for a rather contemplative and strongly immersive viewing experience, especially considering how little in terms of flashy camerawork or overtly self-conscious technique Dmitry Trakovsky uses here.

Depending on the viewer’s sensibilities, different accounts will sink deeper than others (although my guess is that the flamboyantly moralistic, blatantly self-aggrandizing huckster delivery by Krzysztof Zanussi will be no one’s favorite). Overall, this wonderful documentary circles around its subject hesitantly and respectfully, and yet does not flinch at revealing his less appealing sides (namely his way of treating women as “B-class people” pointed out by the still-ravishing Nostalghia [1983] star, Domiziana Giordano).

To someone like me, who grew first to love Tarkovsky’s work and then to object to it, Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky is indeed like meeting an old mentor; someone once revered, then rebelled against, and yet never quite exiled from one’s head. At this point in my life, I mostly resent Tarkovsky’s disdain for secular order of things and for earthly concerns. It strikes me more and more that his elaborate search for spirituality was almost a way of avoiding the question of happiness and branding it a selfish pursuit at best. Still, I may come to love Tarkovsky once more some day, and Meeting… certainly made sure that I don’t ever want to forget him.

[Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky can be purchased here.]