Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ivanovo detstvo

Tarkovskiy's first feature, Ivanovo detstvo (int'l title: Ivan's Childhood), lacerates the viewer with pain, questions, and a moody silence: Kolya Burlyaev as the 12-year-old Ivan shows a maturity of acting skills unsurpassed and is the pulse of this wonderful film, another example of what a fine black-and-white film can achieve and how strange it is that poetry is felt when one watches beautiful cinematography in black and white.

As a film, a young director's flaws do come out and at times there is more intellect than heart, more the intention of sending out a message than an attempt to understand and explore the message oneself using the medium of a film this time: some of the dream sequences like the apples one and the final fantasy of all gathered in a paradise? seem imposed on the film, seem like tacked onto it. However, even the flaws of a genius are beautiful to watch or experience, and such foibles do not in any way take away from the rare thing that Ivan's Childhood is: a humane attempt to make sense of an insensible world, a struggle to not reject, to not give way to the easy method of denial of everything. This is where the stunning performance of Kolya as Ivan comes to the fore: his burning hatred not just provides him with the fodder to live on, and the will power for action, but it also would have led him to a more enlightened self, through which he knows himself, that what he is, who he is, and probably that there are differences between the what and the who.

The subplot of Masha seems like a complete early Ingmar Bergman film: however, it does seem unneeded to me in this film. There is little time already in a one-and-half-hour film to devote to Ivan; outside of his dreams and his hate-filled eyes, there is little to choose from, and had it not been the expressions on Kolya's face which are themselves a million stories, the viewer would have been stifled. Tarkovskiy gives glimpses of that rare ability that Resnais had, to play with time, but compared to the latter, he still is green. I did not like the voiceover at the end when Ivan's fate was revealed to the viewer: the voiceover is a simple trick but ungainly because in real life there are no voiceovers (sometimes, it is effective, but those are different sets of circumstances). It very much reminded me of an opening scene of the Hindi classic Saahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, where the discovery of some broken bangles by a civil engineer leads to the unravelling of a past, forgotten story (here, the discovery comes only at the end, but again the end of the protagonist can only be guessed at by the person who discovers the remains of a life lived passionately). Time, even though we see it as so separate, is so kneaded: why to use voiceovers and flashbacks to reinforce the notion that time is separate, divided into discrete periods? Considering the intention Tarkovskiy set out with, I felt the story betrayed, the boy betrayed. He looked for synthesis everywhere: his quest for justice and vengeance was nothing but a search for resolution. A resolution above all in time: the old man who has lost his wife, he himself who has lost his family, Russia whose future is uncertain and present black, and Siberia where time and space both seem to stand still, for even 200 or 2000 kilometres in Siberia is not far.