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Tarkovsky Films Ranked

May 26, 2018

The films of Andrei Tarkovsky are deeply resonant to me. They were the subject of my Master’s thesis, and one of the definitive memories of my student days in London is a hypnotic summer of Tarkovsky DVDs on loop in my little box room in Chalk Farm. For about three months, I was shrouded in the most baroque of fugues: lapsing in and out a world scored to the sombre tones of Johann Sebastian Bach, or an enquiring monologue from the nasal tenor of Anatoly Solonitsyn.

Having recently re-watched Andrei Rublev for the first time in over a decade, I feel compelled to add Tarkovsky to my directorial ranking series, although I would qualify that the first three films feel pretty interchangeable, and the top five are bona fide masterpieces in my opinion.

In reverse order:

7. The Sacrifice (1986)

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Tarkovsky’s closing film, and, released in the year of his death, it has a suitably portentous and soothsaying feel about it. In its allegorical conveyance of a reckoning, it could almost be Tarkovsky’s version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Erland Josephson is Tarkovsky’s on-screen proxy, making an ambiguous bargain in exchange for the world not being destroyed in nuclear apocalypse. It perhaps lacks the emotional undertow of Tarkovsky’s better films, in exchange for an almost pulverisingly spartan moral terrain.

6. Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

1962: Ivan's Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky) – Senses of Cinema

Tarkovsky’s first film was his most linear, formally rapturous and narratologically pure piece of work. It falls very much in the slipstream of the new wave of Soviet Thaw cinema. In fact, its dazzling cinematography, sharp editing and swooning sense of fatalism over the sacrifice of youth in the Second World War bears uncanny resemblance to one of the finest films of all-time and the archetypal Thaw film, Michail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying (1957).

5. Andrei Rublev (1966)

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Andrei Rublev is one of the most cerebral historical dramas and biopics imaginable. It achieves the near impossible – telling a story of besieged Russian icon painter, Andrei Rublev, over a 25 year period, while also capturing something about not only the canvas of Russian history at the time, but also of its nationhood as a whole. It’s a film at once historically specific, but equally, incredibly abstract and transcendent.

Full review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/andrei-rublev/

4. Nostalgia (1983)

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A mesmerising piece of interior, sensory cinema. It’s a relatively small, spiritual story of a Russian poet ghosting his way round some sites in Italy, that hallucinatingly segues into the same man intermittently slipping into a form of metaphysical dream state – the ‘Nostalgia’ of the film’s title?

Full review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/nostalgia/

3. Solaris (1972)

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Perhaps the most beautifully sad film I’ve ever seen. This is science fiction as it’s meant to be: nothing more than a macguffin around which to wrap the most age-old of human stories – in this case, the boundless pursuit for existential meaning, and the transcendence of love.

Full review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/solaris-2/

Feature article: https://oneroomwithaview.com/2017/04/04/tarkovskys-reinvention-femme-fatale-solaris/

2. Stalker (1979)

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If Solaris is perhaps the most justified use of science fiction for emotive purposes, Stalker is just so for its cerebral, philosophical musings. It’s a work of pure imaginative genius in the way it conceives of its post-apocalyptic scenario for a treatise on the fallibility of man. The film also saw Tarkovsky push his genre experimentations (the musical score, set design and use of film stock) to the maximum.

Full review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/stalker/

1. Mirror (1975)

Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror | Sabzian

Tarkovsky’s most personal film and his most staggeringly experimental and expressionistic work too. He blurs all boundaries between fact and fiction, the past and present, black and white, dream and reality, for a quite mesmeric representation of personal rapture and historical artefact.

Full review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/mirror/

Feature article: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/mirrors-tarkovsky-derrida-in-historical-ruins/

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