Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky was born on 4th of April 1932. During his film career, he would direct and co-write 7 feature films and 3 short films. These films would make him an iconic figure in the History of Cinema and would influence many filmmakers around the world. Tarkovksy died on 29th of December 1986 but we will always speak about his movies. And as we will rank them below, you will understand why we do that.
Before we start our ranking, we need to clarify two things. First of all, we will rank only his feature films. This means that we will not include his 3 short films that he directed during his studies at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow. And we will not include his documentary “Voyage to Italy” that he co-directed with Tonino Guerra. Second (and most important) of all, we need to emphasize that this is a subjective ranking. Although we will try to focus on the typical characteristics of film theory and critics, in the case of Andrei Tarkovsky, this is practically impossible. Why? Simply because all his films are great and have inspired differently people throughout the years. Having said that, we acknowledge that our ranking might be “unfair” and many of you will disagree, but that’s the beauty of Cinema.
And without any further ado, let’s begin with our ranking from great to masterpiece:
7) Nostalghia (1983)
I can already hear your arguments. Tarkovsky won the Best Director award (tied with Robert Bresson) at Cannes Film Festival for “Nostalghia”. And we dare to rank it as his less great movie? Let’s explain why. “Nostalghia”tells the story of a Russian poet and his interpreter who travel to Italy in order to find out about the life of an 18th century composer. During their journey, they meet Domenico, a strange man who tries to make the poet to understand how the world can be saved.
It is a film about Art itself and its difficulties of being translated into different languages and cultures. It is a film about Tarkovsky’s homesickness, since it was his first film out of Soviet Union. He fled the country because he did not want to have the same restrictions as he had in his previous films. It is a minimalistic story, with dream sequences. This film is an exploration or nostalgia about past memories and places. As almost all of his films, “Nostalghia” has an autobiographical elements. But the pace is extremely slow, even for Tarkovsky’s standards. Although visually outstanding, it lacks the approach of making us part of its world. If this film had been directed by any other director, it would have been her/his magnum opus. For Tarkovsky though, we can say it is his lesser great movie.
6) The Sacrifice (1986)
Grand Prize of the Jury, FIPRESCI Prize and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at 1986 Cannes Film Festival. The Director of Photography, Sven Nykvist, also won the prize for Best Artistic Contibution at the same festival. And yet, we rank it at the 6th place. The film explores religious themes, inspired both by paganism and Christianity. It poses metaphysical questions, such as the existence of God and his absence when the catastrophe approaches.
Erland Josephson is excellent as Alexander. He was a famous actor who abandoned everything to become a critic. And he will be the one to bargain with God so the latter prevents a nuclear holocaust. They teared down the cottage in order to have an excellent visual result. They actually had to burn it twice, because the first time it was burnt by accident. It was the last film by Andrei Tarkovsky before he died. Only a few months after the movie’s release, he was diagnosed with cancer. He couldn’t even attend at Cannes to receive his prizes. This film received praise by religious critics and Vatican itself (!), but it might seem odd to our generation. Yet, it is a great film that everybody needs to discover.
5) Andrei Rublev (1966)
The film depicts the story of Andrei Rublev, a Russian iconographer who lived in the 15th century. Andrei Tarkovsky has mentioned that it is loosely based on Rublev’s life. With this film, Tarkovsky wanted to represent the medieval life in Russia, the hard times and the agony that the people had to deal with. Through this film, Tarkovsky tried to find the connection between faith and Arts.
The film had to deal with the censorship of the Communist Party, because, according to its commitee “the film’s ideological erroneousness is not open to doubt.” The film’s official release in the Soviet Union came 5 years later, in 1971 and it was a massive success. The film has received positive reviews from many critics around the world.
And it is a great film. While the whole film is in black and white, the epilogue is in colour. Through its 3 hours and 25 minutes duration, we have the opportunity to explore a turbulent period in the Russian history. However, the film’s duration, with its many long takes, might distant the newer generations from this great movie. The religion is one of the main themes of the movie and it emphasizes too much on it. With these being said, we insist on saying that “Andrei Rublev” is a masterpiece, but it will rank on number 5. Because the next films are even more astonishing.
4) Mirror (1975)
Prewar, Wartime and Postwar years. It is the most autobiographical film in Tarkovsky’s career. We follow the life of Aleksei as a kid, as a teenager and as a middle-aged man (only through voice-over). Through Aleksei’s eyes, we discover Maria, his mother, and the struggles she had to face during her life. Margarita Terekhova is magnificent as Maria (she is also Natalia, Aleksei’s wife).
The film has a nonlinear narrative with several dream sequences. The imagery is one more time impressive. The poetry is present throughout the film, as poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, Andrei’s father, are narrated on different parts of the movie. It is a film that tries to explore the the unconciousness and bring to life the inner thoughts and fears of its protagonists. The film’s cinematography is captivating and maybe one of the most unique in the History of Cinema. Many critics and directors place “Mirror” as one of the greatest films ever made. And we don’t disagree with them. But we believe that the top-3 films below are even more groundbreaking.
3) Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
Tarkovsky’s debut is a manifesto against war. While other films glorified war, Andrei Tarkovsky chose a different approach. By choosing a child as his main protagonist, Tarkovsky wanted to highlight the human cost of the bloody WWII. In the film, Ivan is a 12-years old kid whose parents died during the war. Ivan takes part in the war and seeks revenge for the loss of his family.
The dream sequences are present even in this movie, as they will be through entire Tarkovsky’s filmography. The film is entirely in black and white. The nature is the key factor in this movie. But a nature so devastated, almost brutal. Tarkovsky will use several tracking shots in order to reach a poetic result. Finally, the frame that we used about this film, is one of the most impressive kisses ever.
2) Stalker (1979)
We guess that you all expected “Stalker” to be our top pick. And if it is yours, we totally agree with you. Our choice was genuinely impossible. “Stalker” is a masterpiece. Many critics consider it “the most philosophical film ever made”. And we totally agree with them.
“Stalker” follows the adventures of three men: the Stalker, the Writer and the Professor. The Writer and the Professor follow the Stalker into the Zone, a mysterious and dangerous area, sealed off by the government. Over there, they seek “The Room”, a place where all their wishes may come true.
“Stalker” is loosely based on the novel “Roadside Picnic” by Strugatsky brothers. But it goes way beyond the novel. By drawing unforgettable images, this film dives into the human soul. The biggest questions in life are being asked during the film. Tarkovsky’s cinematic poetry reveals (almost) everything. We love this film, we agree with you if it is in the top of your list. And if you haven’t seen it, do it now!
1 ) Solaris (1972)
“Solaris” is one of the greatest films ever made (although we wrote that too many times in this article, we mean it ALL THE TIMES!) and definitely the most artistic film in the Science fiction genre. “Solaris” is an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel with the same title. A psychologist travels into a station which orbits around a planet, in order to examine the crew and their unusual mental behaviours.
Andrei Tarkovsky wanted to bring a depth into the Sci-fi genre. Where most of his colleagues were emphasizing in the technological aspects, Tarkovsky explores the human nature. Although Tarkovsky himself was not so satisfied with the result, comparing it to “Stalker”. He believed that in “Stalker” he had the chance to use the required special effects he wanted to have for “Solaris” as well (but he didn’t).
Donatas Banionis and Natalia Bondarchuk give lifetime performances and captivate us throughout the movie. While “Stalker” is more “philosophical and metaphysical”, “Solaris” tends to explore the meaning of Love to unprecedented levels. And it makes “Solaris” his most “human” film, although it takes place to the endless space. A masterpiece that will always be relevant.