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(***** out of *****)
Ivan's Childhood is Tarkovsky's debut feature film about a 12 year old boy who volunteers to fight in the front lines against the German invasion because his family where murdered by Nazis. His size and height make him the perfect spy for the Russians as he slides his way across muck and swamp to bring back vital information about the German offence that no other man can achieve. At the same time his commanding officers object to this boy being used as a tool of war but have no control over the matter because of Ivan's convictions to bring down those that killed his parents.
Shot in beautiful monochrome the camera never ceases to capture nature, religion, dreams and love - all of which are major elements in any Tarkovsky film. This motion picture is one of the most stunning independent movies you will ever see.
Sometimes Ivan cries like the child he is but this is not because of the burden of war but because he can not do what he wants most - to avenge the death of his family. Other times he is like a General in the making - standing up to his commanders, spitting orders back at them, making other soldiers look pale in comparison and walking into the fray without any fear attached. The dichotomy of his fractured personality is evident the most when he is alone. One moment he is dreaming of his mother, the next he is stalking the ghost of a Nazi murderer in the room where he sleeps (which is one of the most disturbing scenes in this film).
The final sequence in the ruins of Berlin fully brings home the impact of the film's premise. This is a story about Ivan's Childhood and that is exactly what you get. Heart wrenching from the first frame to the last and never equalled. To think this was all made in 1962! Shocking cinema at its very best.
"Childhood of Ivan" is not only about Ivan's life but it stands as a
symbol for the many Russian lives shattered by the war. This is an
elliptical film, that is, it doesn't reveal everything - it suggests.
"Childhood of Ivan" requires the use of your brain and imagination, but it is in no way a difficult film. Once you accept not understanding everything right now, just relax and follow the images and sounds and you are ready for the "Childhood of Ivan".
As I said before the film uses many ellipses to show Ivan's fractured life - he plays in the fields, his mother calls him and smiles; a water well, he stares down at the water and his mother stands beside him and tells a story about the stars; we hear a gun shot, someone lying on the grass; Ivan is wading through a swamp to reach a soviet army unit.
The war is not shown at all - it is suggested. We only see the enemy soldiers once for a brief moment. And two hanged men is all there is to denounce the carnage of the war. The rest is suggested by unfinished speeches, by faces where pain is followed right after by the desire to live and be happy......
Ivan's memories: His mother, his sister and their games, the beach, the sea and the rain, his captivity - his life, a broken life. Nothing remained for him in life but to fight - to fight against the enemy that had taken everything from him.
I repeat that "Childhood of Ivan" is not a partisan film, it doesn't try to demonize the adversaries. I would call it much more an intimist film, somewhat in the vein of "Les Jeux Interdits", but Ivan's childhood was over after the horrors he had to go through; his only way to survive as a human being was to fight the horror that had crippled his life, while the children of "Les Jeux Interdits" went on with their children games in spite of the war. France, because of her fast surrender, was preserved from the butchery inflicted on the Soviet Union.
I recommend this film to everyone who wants to see a paradoxically sad, beautiful, reflexive and passionate film.
Tarkovsky appeared dismissive of this, his first feature, saying it was
sort of project dreamed up in film school pool halls. It was not a film he
himself instigated, but it cannot for a moment be described as uncommitted
or pedestrian. It most closely resembles some of the other 'names' in
artistic cinema of the day in terms of formal style, Tarkovsky having not
that point worked out his own unique and so far inimitable 'style', if
that's the right word. The dream sequence with the apples, though
brilliantly done, seems derivative. He never used optical flourishes like
Tarkovsky believed a great deal of editing for the audience was vulgar and inimitable to great art, but this film is quite structured and conventional compared to his later slower and arguably more obscure works. The key performance comes from Ivan himself, a fine effort from one so young, and indeed Tarkovsky used him again in the bell section of Andrei Rublev; although he used rather harsh methods to get the performance he wanted in that case. Obviously influenced by Dreyer, you see the beginnings of Andrei's obsession with water and it's reflective calm around more tempestuous events. His use of black and white stock in terms of lighting is exemplary.
The film's title is ironic as Ivan does not have a childhood, but the films majestic and moving final shot suggests that Ivan does receive a kind of immortality beyond the bleak finality of his discovered photo in Berlin, that the Russian spirit itself cannot be stifled and will ultimately run free.
This film by Tarkovsky depicts the story of Ivan, a child partisan in the
eastern front during the second world war. The strength and immersion of
film are quite amazing, although it was made almost forty years ago it has
not lost any of it's power and is still absolutely gripping. The dream
sequences are especially powerful in the way they show the history and
state of mind of the young Ivan.
The acting is very good and so are all the other aspects such as editing and cinematography that is exceptionally good. Overall the film is an example of directorial excellence, from a very simple story Tarkovsky is able to build a larger history with obvious references to christianity. Questions about humanity and the nature of humankind are in the center of this film and there are many reasons why this is one of the best war films that exist.
Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Tarkovsky's first substantial feature as
director (he previously made a short of the Killers, and a 45 minute
student film), is a near-masterpiece of adolescence shredded to pieces
in subjective perception. It's set in world war 2, with 12 year old
Ivan's family killed by the Nazis and his alliance with the Russian
soldiers as a scout able to sneak past into small spaces more to do
with vengeance than real patriotism. By the time we see him he's a torn
figure, someone who at 12 looks and acts like he's already come of age,
by force, and that this deep down has left him in a disparaging state
of mind, pushing it away through temper (he won't go to military
school, he tells his superiors), and only with the slightest escape
But in these dreams he's also tormented by his past, in fragments that hint to the psychological trauma through abstractions, of a splash of water hitting across the dead body of his mother while Ivan is at the bottom of a well, or in the natural and happy surroundings of a truck carrying fruits. One sees in this the only spots of innocence left in Ivan's life, the pinnacle (and one of Tarkovsky's most breathtaking scenes ever filmed) the final dream on the beach with Ivan and his sister running along the sand. In this nature, smiling faces, the filtering of the background of the forest, Ivan's Childhood is starkly incredible.
The 'real' world as depicted, to be sure, is jagged, torn apart, in dark marshes and forests and with trenches dug for a long while and flares and cannon fire always in the air. It seems almost not to be entirely real, or as real as should be 100% truthful to battlefronts. But it's also, for the most part (sometimes it shifts to the adult soldiers like Kholin and Galtzev), through Ivan's point of view, and so this world around him that is ripped to shreds and bullet-strewn and deadened is amplified a little.
There's a curious, evocative scene where Ivan, left alone in a dark floor of a house with a flashlight, goes around looking at the messages scribbled frantically as final notes from partisans, and it veers in-between dream and reality, where it could go either way depending on Ivan's mental state, as fragile as his physical condition. He finally bursts into tears, exhausted. It's this wild meddling with what Ivan sees or experiences or thinks and secretly fears through his would-be tough exterior that makes him so compelling and heartbreaking, as played by Kolya Burlyayev with a sharp level of bravery- not even Jean-Pierre Leaud was this absorbing, albeit on different dramatic terrain.
It's a given that it was not Tarkovsky's project to start with, and, ala Kubrick and Spartacus, came in after a director had been let go to finish the picture. While it is remarkable to see how Tarkovsky does make it his vision, and quite an ambitious one considering how expansive the production design gets and the technical daring taken with his director of photography Vadim Yusov, and how there's a fresh and often original (eg dream scenes, placement of the camera, the scene in the post-war house looking at the records of the departed) perspective that no one else would have given it, there are small parts of the story that could have been dealt with a little better, edited, or cut out altogether.
The character of Masha (played practically with one expression- practically cause of the moment after she is kissed- on her face) is a little unnecessary, or rather more of a means for Tarkovsky to practice some technical ideas in the forest scene, which really leads nowhere, and how her reemergence later in the film also doesn't serve much of a purpose. Maybe there's a point to be made about women in the army at the time, as she's an object of desire less much of an effective nurse, but when seeing her scenes (which aren't bad exactly) one wants to get back to Ivan and the central plot.
But, as mentioned, one has to know that as a Tarkovsky picture what doesn't work doesn't matter so much as what does, and Ivan's Childhood is often staggering in its depiction of the brutality on the mind and consciousness, not just through Ivan but through his adult counterparts, and about how in a time when life can be taken away in an instant, almost without a sound, clinging to a past, however surreal, is all that can matter. There's truths reached about the devastation of war on the young, and those who care for them, that wouldn't be in a more naturalistic setting, and it's Tarkovsky's triumph that he steers it into the realm of a consistent, poetic nightmare narrative.
The first full-length feature film by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky caused a sensation when it was released and shown at Venice Film Festival in 1962 where it won the Golden Lion. The world had not seen such a powerful motion picture about war and what it does to the youngest and weakest - the children. It is a bleak, haunting and horrifying portrait of lost innocence and the childhood that was interrupted the very day the boy's family was murdered. Although Ivan survived physically, he was changed forever, not a boy but a man who looked in the eye of triumphant death and horror. The film introduces young Nikolai (Kolya) Burlyaev in the fascinating performance as Ivan. "Ivan's Childhood" is a screen adaptation of the story by a Russian writer Vladimir Bogomolov "Ivan" which is a fiction story but it is based on the real facts. Millions young boys and girls perished during the endless days, months, and years of the worst war of the last century. Bogomolov fought as a soldier during the WWII. He was only 15 years old but he had forged his papers - added two years, dropped from his school and joined the Army. He had been seriously wounded three times but survived and finished the war in Berlin - the 19 year old soldier with six medals for courage and heroism. He was a very good writer and I love his books "Moment of Truth" ("In the August of 1944"), and "Zosya" that were also adapted to very good movies in Russia.
Tarkovsky's monochrome delight deals with the tragedy of youth lost in
Its main theme is of childhood innocence lost (becoming accessible to
only in dreams) however the young officers are also vastly aged by the
conflict they find themselves in.
The backdrop is nature itself - woodpeckers and cuckoos emulate (or become replaced by) the sounds of machine gun fire and the hoots of the falling flares. It pervades most scenes: the seemingly endless channel of water between the opposing sides, the huge birch trees stretching out as high and as far as the eye can see while also providing bunkers for the Russian forces. But nature's power is continually challenged by the great war going on around it and is ultimately defiled and devastated (like Ivan's, and the other young officers' innocence) - turning from green grasslands to mud and ashen trees.
Reminded me of 'The Thin Red Line' in its use of the natural world war tries to ignore. The shots are honestly stunning. The leads are all fantastic. Enjoy the desolation.
With this, I have now seen all seven of Andrei Tarkovsky's features. I still have to see Steamroller and Violin, his student film. From a directorial standpoint, Ivan's Childhood is Tarkovsky's weakest film. It does not contain the kinds of things we associate with Tarkosky the auteur. If I had seen this when it first appeared, I would have definitely been impressed with it. But with Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky created one of the best films ever made, a label that Ivan's Childhood is not likely to ever receive. Still, it is a great film with several great scenes. The problem is that Tarkovsky took this film over from another director. He didn't plan it. His major contributions were the several dream sequences, which are the best parts of the film (especially the one where Ivan and his sister are riding in the back of an apple truck when it is raining). Besides these dream sequences, there are several other good sequences and at least one other great one (the scene I refer to here is the one in the birch forest with Masha). The final sequence is beautiful and it brought me to tears. 9/10.
This is the movie that APOCALYPSE NOW tried to be with all of its grand visuals. Tarkovski did something in hour and a half that Coppola tried in three. How beautiful, important and brilliant this movie is, can´t be explained. You have to see it and sense it through your every pore. True master-piece from the greatest director in the world (apologies to Bergman and Kubrick).
A superb film, by turns lyrical, harsh and tense, with a deep sympathy for ordinary people caught up in inexplicable events overwhelming their lives. The uneasy state of the Russian army, facing the German front across wetlands, is reflected in the characters - the boy and the men are getting 'jittery' - and the destruction waged on the landscape reflects the damage done to the people themselves: the old man with his cockerel and, especially, Ivan, who slips between the dreams of sleep and the nightmare of living. Nature and innocence are linked, and the scene in the birch forest is especially effective. A life-enhancing film, both poetic and poignant.
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