Stalker (1979)
Overlong, unengaging and pretentious.
5 September 2007
Another one of the most disappointing movies I've ever seen. What I felt was worst about Stalker was that it came across as pretentious, a term I do not use lightly. Where normally a director would attempt to engage their audience somehow, to make their thoughts and ideas in some way accessible, Tarkovsky seems to have the attitude that there is no need for this, that people should patiently watch a slow, uninvolving movie and simply figure it out for themselves. Granted, I would agree that in general audiences should be patient and open minded with films and that very often, especially with "great" movies, the more an audience puts in, the more they get out. This was certainly not the case with Stalker which I felt practically alienated its audience rather than welcoming them in.

I would like to be proved wrong and I'm sure I could have payed more attention in areas (although this is arguably the fault of the film to some degree). But even if I later find Stalker not to be so pretentious, it remains unnecessarily long and slow paced. Plus, there isn't any clear pay off at the end. No climax.

For example, the cinematography was predictable and repetitive, and even worse, drew attention to itself. In the first 10 seconds of various shots you notice that you are (very very) slowly zooming in (or out) and you immediately know that for the next few minutes, that's all you're gonna get. It wouldn't matter so prominent if the film were more eventful and interesting. I felt that its style didn't create an atmosphere so much as it reflected the lack of creativity from the filmmakers.

Nevertheless, I thought the acting was very good but it's hard to get into the characters if almost every shot is a wide shot and there are barely any close-ups. The music was forgettable, not necessarily bad per se but clearly lacking in power and effectiveness. Some of the locations were quite memorable and imaginative but I can't help but feel as though they were barely explored or touched upon. Some of the shots were nice and bring you into the movie's world quite well (for example, the abrupt colouration change) but these moments are unfortunately few and far between. Also, some of the dialogue was interesting but it never seemed to go anywhere.

I have to admit, it is quite likely that I just completely missed the point of Stalker or that it's so different from what I have seen that I was unable to properly appreciate its merits. In that case I look forward to finally enjoying it some time in the distant future (I'm not keen to rewatch it anytime soon).

Nevertheless, if I've established anything from watching Stalker in my personal quest to understand and appreciate film, it's the importance of the tone of a film. If a film comes across as at all pretentious, it is virtually impossible to enjoy, no matter what qualities it does have. In terms of measuring or defining pretentiousness, the best way I can think of putting it is that somehow one gets the impression not as much effort was put into the film as could have been and that instead the audience is expected to put it together for themselves; the filmmakers don't work for attention and appreciation, they simply expect it.
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