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Andrei Rublev, The Stalker &
Social Realism...
(Part: II)

Bircan UNVER

For Part: I

In the Mirror, when Masha was running to the print house under the heavy rain, it represented Masha's panic, tenseness and a hidden suppression in her environment. Especially in the last episode of Andrei Rublev, it becomes much clearer that Tarkovsky merged two different time periods with the storm and rain -both conceptually and visually.

Leong also evaluates and relates the film of Andrei Rublev to the 'socialist realism', which helps us to see the film in the 'big picture' of Soviet cinematography and regime:

...Rublev with the aesthetics of socialist realism on two levels: (1) Tarkovsky, as a Soviet film artist, in his film created 'a truthful, historically-concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development' and (2) Rublev, as the central character in the film, underwent 'ideological transformation in the spirit of socialism in the course of the film. (5, p.231)

The film Andrei Rublev has its own long story. In short, film contract was signed in 1962, and its first premiere was in Moscow in 1966. The scenario was written by Tarkovsky and Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, and it was published in 1963. (6) David A. Cook states that the film struggled in the former Soviet Union:

...Andrei Rublev, from a script by Konchalovsky produced an official scandal. Tarkovsky used Rublev's life, reconstructed in loosely connected episodes, to symbolize the conflict between Russian barbarism and idealism. The film was banned in the Soviet Union on the grounds that it gave an inaccurate (that is, negative) account of medieval Russian history, although an edited version won the International Critics' Award at Cannes in 1969, and Rublev was ultimately given limited domestic release in a version further re-edited and cut by forty minutes. (7, p.769)

In order to evaluate some of the different difficulties and struggles film makers' faced during the Stalinist period, Dmitry and Vladimir Shlapentokh state in the book "Soviet Cinematography, 1918-1991" that:

The case with Tarkovsky's movies demonstrates a similar atmosphere during Brezhnev's period. The international recognition his movies received (for example, Andrei Rublev or Mirror did nothing to militate the attacks against them in the USSR. (8)

Anna Lawton also writes about in the "Kinoglasnost: Soviet Cinema in Our Time" that, "...Liberal critics expressed deep appreciation, while conservative ones attacked them in the press for being 'difficult' and self-indulgent. As a consequence, those directors were only allowed to make a few films over the years."(9) Lawton includes Tarkovsky among others. Dmitry and Vladimir Shlapentokh add another perspective via director's diary:

...In fact, many movies that Tarkovsky wanted to make were terminated before shooting began. It is also remarkable how the officials tried to force Tarkovsky to shoot movies they regarded as necessary for ideological reasons-for example, about technological progress, about Lenin, etc. (10)

As another background of the 'social realism' according to Christopher Williams, in the book "Realism and the Cinema": "The doctrine of socialist realism set out by Italian film maker Zhdanov and officially adopted in Russia after 1932 produced no significant text in the field of cinema, through we should note that much of Eisenstein's later writing represents a kind of response to it. ...One of its foremost spokesmen is Cesare Zavattini: "The Cinema should never turn back. It should accept, unconditionally, what is contemporary. Today, today, today. It must tell reality as if it were a story; there must be no gap between life and what is on the screen." (11, p.29)

Finally from Tarkovsky's perspective is also about the film Andrei Rublev, in the "Sculpting in Time":

When isolated episodes were taken out of context from Andrei Rublev in order to accuse me of 'naturalism' (for instance the blinding scene and certain shots in the sack of Vladimir) I genuinely didn't understand the point of the accusation and I still don't. I'm not a drawing-room artist and it's not up to me to keep the public happy. On the contrary: what I have to do is tell people the truth about our common existence as it appears to me in the light of my experience and understanding. That truth hardly promises to be easy or pleasant; and it is only by arriving at that truth and that 'realism' that one can achieve a moral victory over it within oneself. (12, p.186)

I understand Tarkovsky's very subtle approach better than before. He didn't aim or promise to please the public or the state. In contrast, his 'realism' is completely different than 'social realism', which quests 'a moral victory within oneself'.

Tarkovsky was born in April 4, 1932 in Zavrzhye, Yurievets region in Moscow, the son of the acclaimed Russian poet Arseni Tarkovsky. He studied at the VGIK under Mikhail Romm and had already won first prize at the New York Student Film Festival for his diploma project, Steamroller and Violin (co-directed with Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky) when he graduated in 1960. The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky's last film, completed with international co-production (Zhertva, 1986) was shot in Sweden. All together, he made seven great movies, and lived the last six years of his life in Europe, dying finally of lung cancer in Paris on December 1986. (14, p.768) He couldn't see his son for four years. He was desperate to bring his son and his grandmother to where he lived and finally they received permission to go to Europe when a doctor's report proved that he had little time left to live.(13)

Tarkovsky transformed himself in his life, like his protagonist Russian poet Andrei in his film, 'The Nostalgia.' He was very homesick and not able to see his own home, which lay very much in his heart.(1) In many ways, Tarkovsky's own personal life experiences formed the basis for his films' content and aesthetics. At the same time, his films evolved a greater vision of his own personal life and of mankind. The Sacrifice is associated with the Chernobyl nuclear explosion which Tarkovsky foresaw via his film. In this respect, The Stalker also relates it, and makes us consider what is happening to the soul and the environment.

Tarkovsky's fifth film, The Stalker (1979), has motifs based on the book, "Picnic on the Road", by the Stugatsky Brothers. The film has three dominant characters and its protagonist Alexander Kaldanovsky as the Stalker, Anotoly Solonitsyn as a writer, Nikolai Grinko as a professor, and Alisa Freindlich is the Stalker's wife. In the Variety magazine (September 19, 1979), the writer interprets the film:

In general, though, his films are deeply rooted in Russian tradition while remaining still highly original. Tarkovsky, in short, is a film poet who specializes in 'confessions', meditative discourses on life, existence, suffering, and profound personal experience. ...Andrei Tarkovsky pegs his films on conversations between central figures, which are usually poetic, abstruse and penetrating. (15)

In the Stalker, the writer and professor make an illegal journey to the wired and mined wasteland, where it is highly controlled by the government. The first sequence begins with the sound of a train passing in the distance while Stalker is in bed with his wife and their daughter Monkey. Monkey is sleeping with her head covered but his wife as well as Stalker is awake. He gets up silently and gets ready to leave. His wife is warning him that this time he might go to prison -not for 5 years, but for 10 years, and if he does, she'll leave him. The Stalker leaves and quides the people illegally to the 'Zone'. The 'Zone' has a room where all wishes can be fulfilled simultaneously to anyone in that 'room'. Stalker meets at the bar at midnight with the writer and the professor who want him to guide them to the 'Zone', a sort of 'sacred room'.

Each of them has their own reason to visit the Zone. The writer seeks an inspiration, the professor has a reason, and Stalker for faith. They take a car, then a trolley car, being aware of the risk and being very careful of the officials who are controlling the area. Leading the way up to the Zone, Stalker warns them that if any one gets shot, don't shout, they'll pick up the dead body in the morning. When they arrive in the Zone, the Stalker sends back the trolley. There is no return from the same way. Stalker's character associates with Kevin in the Solaris (1972), and Andrei Rublev, who has an ultimate goal beyond the reality - either in the 15th. century or some time in the future. These protagonists represent something far beyond the 'social realism'. They don't relate or fit with it in any way. Mostly, they illustrate opposite or spiritual characters to the ideology of the 'social realism'. Stalker also resembles in some way the Russian poet and Dominico in theNostalgia.

Thus, we can see through each of Tarkovsky's films; the essence of his films create various strong spiritual, poetic concepts, who specializes in 'confessions', meditative discourses on life, existence, suffering, and profound personal experience.

In the Stalker, the place name in the film has a very essential role and meaning for Tarkovsky, which recreates another meaning for concept and place. When he wrote The Sacrifice script, its name was the 'Witch', but it didn't apply in English as 'to know'. Supposedly, the Witch would have represented the person who knows what is going to happen. Thus, he changed the title to The Sacrifice. Before the film Stalker, the 'Zone's meaning was a kind of a prisoner camp according to Russian Culture.


In the Stalker, the writer illustrates the skeptic and cynic as one. The professor is much more realistic and mature in a sense that he understands the high risk and constant changes in the environment. At the same time, this is a contradiction that how come a materialistic scientist preferred to go to a metaphysical place for a reason which can fulfill his wishes. In the article "The Nostalgia of the Stalker", Peter Grief writes that, "...As in the Nostalgia being far away from his home for Russian poet Andrei, 'zone' is also utopia, a utopia, a sacred home for Stalker." (16)

In the Nostalgia, Domenico burns himself in a public square to recreate a new world in terms of the changing values of it. In the Sacrifice, Alexander implored God, if he saves the world from the nuclear bomb, he will sacrifice his son who is his the most strong tie with life. The plea accepted via the mailman and Maria as a witch. It returns, he burned down his house, he had to leave his son, wife and his comfortable life for this purpose. Then he was taken away by an ambulance. Alexander devoted himself to his son, his life and everything, so he could prevent humankind from the danger of nuclear explosion. Stalker also dedicated himself to a belief that no one needs to go the Zone for an 'inner wish'.

During their failure in front of the 'room', while he was arguing with the writer, Stalker states that he can help the others although he is a louse. He says to the writer that, "The people I bring here are as wretched as I am. They have no hope left. No one can help them. But I, a louse can!" His only wish is for his mutant daughter, Monkey, to recover as previously the professor told the writer about the Stalker's condition, "...He was imprisoned several times and got hurt there. And his daughter's a mute, a 'zone' victim." After he returned home, while his wife was trying to calm him down from his crash, she says that, "It is not their fault", referring to their spiritual failure to get in the 'room', having a materialist mind or loosing their hope. In this concept, Stalker devotes himself to change those values for a faith and belief as in the Nostalgia, as Dominico does, or in the Sacrifice, as Alexander does.

Despite Stalker's wretchedness, he is the one with the highest moral values and desires. There are many indications of this: the environment polluted by the nuclear power center, Stalker a 'louse' and his completely isolated life with his wife and his daughter, Monkey, who can't talk. If I speculate further, one of the main hidden layers in the film is the ongoing suppression of the scientists and the writers. The writer says in his monologue, "While I was trying to change them, they have changed me." And he urgently needs an inspiration in terms of being able to continue his career to gain the confidence to write. In contrast, he doesn't believe in himself.

The professor took away secretly 'Bunker#4', which is a nuclear weapon, from his laboratory and he hid it form the Stalker until the entry to the 'wishes room'. The professor's reason being that he wishes to destroy the bomb and prevent it passing into the hands of evil-doers.

In his conversation with his laboratory department's chairman, who warns the professor of security matter, and also a reason to lose his entire career. He destroys the bomb but couldn't enter the 'room', either. This also illustrates another aspect of intimidation over the intellectuals, which indicates the existing suppression by the system.

In an overview, Tarkovsky's quests for a higher moral level of the human spirit in his films. In this respect, Andrei Rublev devoted to an inner belief and creativity. The Stalker conveys a very different story plat and time epoch than Andrei Rublev. Still Tarkovsky's themes resembles each other in some ways in these films as well as others. The Stalker demonstrates a great 'landscape of the human soul', a pure cinema esthetic, as well as its other subtle layers. Tarkovsky indicated the former Soviet political regime's suppressions and its sanctions by 'social realism', and how its consequences intimidated the life, the creativity of the artists, the intellectuals and the people in a very subtle and unique way. To extend it, 'social realism' collapsed at the end of the 1980's, but in contrast, Tarkovsky continues to exist by way of his films.

- . -

Bibliography P.II

10) Dimitry and Vladimir Shlapentokh, "Soviet Cinematography, 1918-1991", p.34
11) Williams, Christopher, "Realism and the Cinema: A reader", Routledge & Kegan Paul London and Henley, 1980, London, p. 29
12) Andrei Tarkovsky, "Sculpting in Time, Reflections on the Cinema", translated from Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1986-87, p.186.
13) David A. Cook, "A History of Narrative Film" in the chapter "The Soviet Union", p.768
14) Marina Tarkovskaya, "About Andrei Tarkovsky, Memoirs and biographies", Progress Publishers, 1990, p.366
15) Variety weekly, September 19, 1979, p.19
16) Peter Grief, "The Nostalgia, The Stalker", Sight and Sound, Winter, Vol.54, No:1-4, 1985

Andrei Rublev, The Stalker & Social Realism... Part: I

This essay was written as a final paper for the "Art and Power" course at the New School University, in Spring 1998, New York.

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