Tarkovsky, Andrei: Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (Russian: April 4, 1932–December 29, 1986) was a distinguished Soviet-Russian filmmaker, theatre director, writer, and theorist.

Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei tarkovsky stamp russia 2007.jpg
Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky

April 4, 1932

Zavrazhye, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Died 29 December 29, 1986 (aged 54)

Paris, France

Tarkovsky is considered one of the greatest and most influential directors in the history of Russian and world cinema. His films, which explored spiritual and metaphysical themes, are noted for their slow pacing and long takes, dreamlike visual imagery, and preoccupation with nature and memory.

Tarkovsky studied film at Moscow’s VGIK under filmmaker Mikhail Romm, and directed his first five feature films in the Soviet Union: Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975), and Stalker (1979).

After years of creative conflict with state authorities, Tarkovsky left Russia in 1979 and made his final two films abroad. Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986) were produced in Italy and Sweden, respectively.

In 1986, he also published a book about cinema and art entitled Sculpting in Time.

He died of cancer later that year, at the age of 54.

Tarkovsky was the recipient of awards at the Cannes Film Festival (including the FIPRESCI prize, the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, and the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury) and winner of the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival for his debut film Ivan’s Childhood.

In 1990, he was posthumously awarded the Soviet Union’s prestigious Lenin Prize.

Three of his films—Andrei Rublev, Mirror, and Stalker—featured in Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll of the 100 greatest films of all time.

Tarkovsky was born in the village of Zavrazhye in the Yuryevetsky District of the Ivanovo Industrial Oblast (modern-day Kadyysky District of the Kostroma Oblast, Russia) to the poet and translator Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky, a native of Yelisavetgrad, Kherson Governorate, and Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, a graduate of the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute who later worked as a corrector; she was born in Moscow in the Dubasov family estate.

Andrei’s paternal grandfather Aleksandr Karlovich Tarkovsky was a Polish nobleman who worked as a bank clerk. His wife Maria Danilovna Rachkovskaya was a Romanian teacher who arrived from Iași. Andrei’s maternal grandmother Vera Nikolaevna Vishnyakova (née Dubasova) belonged to an old Dubasov family of Russian nobility that traces its history back to the 17th century. She was married to Ivan Ivanovich Vishnyakov, a native of the Kaluga Governorate who studied law at the Moscow State University and served as a judge in Kozelsk.

Tarkovsky’s ancestors on his father’s side were princes from the Shamkhalate of Tarki, Dagestan, although his sister Marina Tarkovskaya who did a detailed research on their genealogy called it “a myth, even a prank of sorts,” stressing that no document confirms this version.

Tarkovsky spent his childhood in Yuryevets. He was described by childhood friends as active and popular, having many friends and being typically in the center of action. His father left the family in 1937, volunteering for the army in 1941. He returned home in 1943, awarded a Red Star after being shot in one leg (which he would eventually need to amputate due to gangrene).

Tarkovsky stayed with his mother, moving with her and his sister Marina to Moscow, where she worked as a proofreader at a printing press.

In 1939, Tarkovsky enrolled at the Moscow School No. 554. During the war, the three evacuated to Yuryevets, living with his maternal grandmother.

In 1943, the family returned to Moscow. Tarkovsky continued his studies at his old school, where the poet Andrei Voznesensky was one of his classmates. He studied piano at a music school and attended classes at an art school. The family lived on Shchipok Street in the Zamoskvorechye District in Moscow.

From November 1947 to spring 1948 he was in the hospital with tuberculosis.

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 Mirror.

Tarkovsky was a poor student, but he managed to graduate.  From 1951 to 1952, he studied Arabic at the Oriental Institute in Moscow, a branch of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. Although he already spoke some Arabic and was a good 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 Turukhansk in the Krasnoyarsk Province. During this time in the taiga, Tarkovsky decided to study film.

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 good 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 relaxed Soviet social restrictions a bit and permitted a limited influx of European and North American 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, Wajda (whose film Ashes and Diamonds influenced Tarkovsky) and Mizoguchi.

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 Grigory Chukhray, who was teaching at the VGIK.  Chukhray offered Tarkovsky a position as assistant director on his film Clear Skies. But Tarkovsky decided to concentrate on his studies and his own projects.

During his third year at the VGIK, Tarkovsky met Andrei Konchalovsky. In 1959, they wrote the script Antarctica–Distant Country, later published in the Moskovsky Komsomolets. Tarkovsky submitted the script to Lenfilm, but it was rejected. They were more successful with the script The Steamroller and the Violin, which they sold to Mosfilm. This became Tarkovsky’s graduation project, earning him his diploma in 1960 and winning First Prize at the New York Student Film Festival in 1961.

Tarkovsky’s first feature was Ivan’s Childhood in 1962. He had inherited the film from director Eduard Abalov, who aborted the project. The film earned Tarkovsky international acclaim and won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Fest 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 fifteenth-century Russian icon painter. Andrei Rublev was not, except for  single screening in Moscow in 1966, released after completion due to problems with Soviet authorities. Tarkovsky had to cut the film several times, resulting in different versions of varying lengths. The film was widely released in the Soviet Union in a cut version in 1971. Nevertheless, the film had a budget of more than 1 million rubles – a significant sum for that period. A version of the film was presented at the Cannes Film Fest in 1969 and won the FIPRESCI prize.

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 on Andrei Rublev (they had been living together since 1965). Their son, Andrei Andreyevich Tarkovsky, 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 collaborated with screenwriter Friedrich Gorenstein as early as 1968. The film was presented at the Cannes Film Fest, won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, and was nominated for the Palme d’Or.

From 1973 to 1974, he shot the film Mirror, an autobiographical and unconventionally structured film drawing on his childhood and incorporating some of his father’s poems. In this film Tarkovsky portrayed the plight of childhood affected by war. Tarkovsky had worked on the screenplay for this film since 1967, under the consecutive titles Confession, White day and A white, white day.

The film was not well received by Soviet authorities due to its content and its perceived elitist nature. Soviet authorities placed the film in the “third category,” a limited distribution, and only allowed it to be shown 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.

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 only stage play, at the Lenkom Theatre in Moscow. The main role was played by Anatoly Solonitsyn, who also acted in Tarkovsky’s films. At the end of 1978, he also wrote the screenplay Sardor 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. 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, but 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, and he hired Alexander Knyazhinsky as new cinematographer.

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 Fest.

Tarkovsky also began the production of the film “The First Day,” based on a script by his friend and long-term collaborator Konchalovsky. The film was set in 18th-century Russia during the reign of Peter the Great and starred Natalya Bondarchuk and Anatoli Papanov. To get the project approved by Goskino, Tarkovsky submitted script that was different from the original one, omitting several scenes that were critical of the official atheism in the Soviet Union. After shooting roughly half of the film the project was stopped by Goskino, when it became apparent that the film differed from the script submitted to the censors. Tarkovsky was upset by this interruption and destroyed most of the film.