After his graduation from the VGIK (a film school in Moscow, Russia) in 1960, Andrei Tarkovsky began working on the film Ivan’s Childhood, after another director had to leave its production. So begins the career of (in my opinion) one of the most artistic and poetic directors of all time. Ivan’s Childhood is now my fourth of his films following Mirror, Stalker, and The Sacrifice. It feels simpler and is a more accessible work than the others, but still shows many of the techniques and motifs he will use later in his career. The movie follows a young Russian boy named Ivan whose family was killed by German soldiers in WWII. Desiring vengeance for his family, he joins the Russian military and works reconnaissance by sneaking past German lines. Throughout the present moments of the film, flashbacks are used to see the more normal moments of his childhood such as running along the beach with friends, riding in carriages, and laughing with his mother.
Having seen a few of his other movies, this was an interesting watch. It is much different than his other works given it seems more story and character-drive. We see the development of techniques he will use later such as the free-floating camera, panning over landscapes, the use of negative in dreams, and constant playing with time. Most importantly to me in this film are dreams and time. He uses these two concepts simultaneously, using the former to recreate the latter. Tarkovsky is able to observe the subconscious unimpeded by conscious logic. He uses dreams to recreate and view past events without bias. For instance, was Ivan really there when his mother was shot? It’s possible of course but in my interpretation, he was not. In Ivan’s dream though, he saw all he needed to see – his mother, a happy countrywoman, needlessly killed in the brutality of war.
All of this playing with time and dream go to create Ivan – to shape his childhood. He seeks vengeance and joins the army. Here he is a compassionate human, plagued by the death of his family, understanding of war and its atrocities. He not only helps the Russian military in their goals, but he instills a sense of compassion and virtue onto them as well. Ivan gives them respect for death. It is unlikely that they would have risked their lives to bury two dead soldiers without his lessons. Finally, the movie leaves off with a view of what childhood should be – something beautiful and carefree. A time to race along the beach, knee-deep in the waters of the ocean rather than that of the war-torn swamps.
Ivan’s Childhood is a good movie by typical standards, but one of Tarkovsky’s less impressive works. I greatly appreciated his use of time and compassion, but the events of the movie itself did not always stick out as truly brilliant. I think the side plot with Masha could have been handled better, maybe lending itself more to the importance of the main plot. I also think Tarkovsky’s use of music and certain camera techniques are vastly improved upon in later films, whereas in this one they can appear slightly amateurish or occasionally corny. But still, Tarkovsky was working with what he had, and in the time and place he was directing, that was not much. To me, this makes the movie more impressive rather than enjoyable. I loved it thematically and it clearly shows the beginnings of a master, but I cannot say that I enjoyed even close to as much as his other works.
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