Pushing Artistic Boundaries in the Soviet Union

Professor Travis Anderson spoke about artistic giant Andrei Tarkovsky’s filmmaking philosophy and analyzed his film, Mirror, at an International Cinema lecture.

PROVO, Utah (Feb. 7, 2017)—Andrei Tarkovsky was a rebel. He spent a good portion of his filmmaking career working in his homeland of Soviet Russia, where films were scrutinized, edited and sometimes banned. “It certainly forced him to be creative and inventive” said Travis Anderson, a philosophy professor at BYU. Tarkovsky ended up being so creative and inventive that Ingmar Bergman, another illustrious filmmaker of the time, said, “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”

The theme of reflection is especially potent in Tarkovsky’s film, Mirror. Anderson lectured on the film and its director before its screening at the International Cinema. “This is . . . [Tarkovsky’s] most challenging film,” Anderson said. “Which is saying something. This is a guy who makes challenging films.” Tarkovsky loved to focus on spiritual themes, which made the hard work of a filmmaker in Soviet Russia even harder.

His efforts to indirectly present spiritual themes led to films that often seem confusing and incoherent, especially Mirror, which jumps back and forth through time. Anderson explained that is due to “[Tarkovsky’s] belief that consciousness and memory are themselves poetically structured,” and as Tarkovsky said, “sometimes they demand forms of expression that are quite different from patterns of logical speculation.” Mirror is based largely on memories, many of them taken from Tarkovsky’s own life; thus the film does not adhere to a linear plot because that is not how memory is experienced.

An experience is exactly what Tarkovsky wants the audience to have – specifically, a poetic experience. “Tarkovsky thinks in images,” Anderson explained. “[For him], film is a medium of thought.” Tarkovsky desired his audience to not just watch life played out on a screen, but to connect with the movie in some way, and have it reach into the lives of the audience members, whom he called his co-creators. Anderson explained that in Mirror, Tarkovsky focused on human experiences that are shared among us – marriage tensions, childhood, war, etc., “as an occasion for [the viewer] to share that experience.”

For example, the first scene of the film is a young man being treated for a stutter in some sort of therapy session. The therapist puts her hands on his head and tells him, “I’ll remove the tension now and you will speak clearly and effortlessly. You will speak loudly and clearly all your life.” “[This scene] is meant to be . . . especially evocative [because of] the restriction under which [Tarkovsky] was as a Soviet filmmaker,” Anderson explained. “Trying to express something and wrestling both with the challenges . . . [of] trying to bring your thoughts, your feelings, your ideas to life, but in this case in particular also wrestling with all kinds of political [and] legal restrictions.”

Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’18)

Olivia covers events for the International Cinema. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in International development.


Photos via kinobuff.wordpress.com and andrei-tarkovsky.com