Monday, November 16, 2009

TARKOVSKY RETROSPECTIVE: Tempo di Viaggio & Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky made just seven full-length features in twenty-four years, mostly in the most unimaginably compromised circumstances and with gaps of up to seven years between films, so you can imagine how enthusiastically he must have seized upon the opportunity to make 'Tempo di Viaggio'. Produced for Italian television while he was working on the script for 'Nostalgia' with Tonino Guerra, it ostensibly records their journey to find suitable locations as well as documenting their working relationship and Tarkovsky's musings on film and art in general.

I won't knock him for simply wanting to get back behind the camera and film. What I will say, though, is that 'Tempo di Viaggio' - as beautiful as some of the images it contains are - is little more than a very well-produced, slighty pretentious home movie. It's basically 'Andrei and Tonino Do Italy' with Guerra reciting some dubious poetry, Tarkovsky discoursing more on other filmmakers than his own work, and the whole enterprise becoming a series of increasingly wordless and extended takes which ultimately look beautiful but say very little about the creative and collaborative processes or the themes and considerations of 'Nostalgia' itself.

The only scene that has any frisson is utterly bizarre. Guerra and Tarkovsky visit a villa which the former has earmarked as a possible location. Guerra recounts with some excitement a legend about a noblewoman who lived there and the series of romantic/tragic events that led to her commissioning a marble floor decorated to suggest a scattering of petals. Like a kid at the entrance to Disneyland, Guerra is almost agitatedly eager to see this ornate feature. When the owners' representative, an oleaginous but diplomatic type, regrets that the proper arrangements have not been made for them to tour the interior, Guerra promptly throws his toys out of the pram. Even Tarkovksy - who, as the next documentary under consideration demonstrates, wasn't adverse to throwing his teddy in the air either - looks shocked and urges the writer to calm down.

The creative process is more thoroughly explored in Michal Leszczylowski's 'Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky', an assemblage of footage shot by Arne Carlsson, assistant cameraman on 'The Sacrifice', during the production of that film and fleshed out with interviews with Tarkovsky's widow and readings (by Brian Cox) from the director's book 'Sculpting in Time'. There are fascinating scenes of Tarkovsky dealing with a multi-national (ergo multi-lingual) cast - we're talking about a Russian director making a film in Sweden with a cast including Swedish, French and British actors - and the one person who impresses most, for her patience and sense of calm, is Tarkovsky's translator. The director himself comes across as fussy and obsessed with minor details, yet often frustratingly vague in his direction of actors.

Tarkovksy sometimes seems undisciplined, dithering over an onset instruction or hesitant as to where to place his actors within the mise en scene (all things, to my thinking, that should have been tied down in pre-production and rehearsal) and even repositioning stones in a brief coastline scene. An hilarious moment has him demand that a tree be removed because the blossom is the wrong colour - for a scene he shoots in sepia! The dramatic crux of the documentary, however, centres on the climactic burning of a house, a six minute scene documenting the protagonist's perceived descent into madness playing out in front of the conflagration. Tarkovksy evinces little control of events, a couple of pyrotechnic effects don't work, and to top it all the camera jams, necessitating the rebuilding of the house within days. Second time around, Tarkovsky plays safe and shoots it with two cameras. It's a tense finale to an otherwise overly reverent documentary and it's priceless to hear the otherwise highly cerebral and locquacious Tarkovsky resorting to calling someone a "motherfucker" when things go wrong.


The Film Connoisseur said...

I love this type of documentary where we can see filmmakers doing their thing behind the camera. I love the creative process (I make my own independent films) and I learn a lot from watching them. We usually get to see a side of the filmmaker we had never seen before.

Havent seen this one, but the last one I saw was Lost in La Mancha, the one that documents the fiasco that was to be Gilliams Quixote movie. Wow! That one was awesome, dont know if you've seen it, but its a real tour de force, it shows us just how wrong things can go while making a film. There is that one electrifying moment when Gilliam simply pulls the plug on the film. And you can see Gilliam angry when some actors had not rehearsed a certain scene! You can see Gilliam nervous, when the producers show up on the set.

But at the same time, you get to know Gilliam, and how he still retains that sense of wonder and amazement. It seems he is constantly looking for a way to amuse himself and others...cant wait for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

Neil Fulwood said...

'La Mancha' is a great film, almost disturbing in the way it documents just what can go wrong during the making of a movie.

Les Blank's 'Burden of Dreams', a behind-the-scenes insight into Werner Herzog's 'Fitzcarraldo', reveals a story as obsessive and dramatic as Herzog's film itself.

I'd be interested in knowing more about your films. Are they available to watch online? Has your work been screened at festivals or entered for competitions?