Category Archives: Tarkovsky

A chain around your neck

I think it started when I read Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, which is an exceptional book, quite different from Thomas Mann’s other books, because you sense that it came to him very easily. I’m a big admirer of Thomas Mann, but all the other books tend to get rather heavy. This one has a lightness. And it’s five volumes, so it’s a big bastard. But because he had an ‘obstruction’ in the form of ‘So says the Bible’, he was able to let his hair down. I’m convinced about the obstruction principle, because it makes it play rather than a duty. I remember Per Kirkeby hated the white canvas. So he had an assistant who’d paint on them. Anything. That gave him a point of departure and then it could become something completely different. It’s funny that total freedom isn’t all that artistically interesting, strangely enough. You also sometimes sense the political situation people have been in. Tarkovsky, for example, made by far his best movies in the Soviet Union, because he was in this strange oppressive situation, but he found a niche so he was returned to favour. As soon as he goes to Italy and Sweden, it doesn’t work for me anymore. Apparently you to have some sort of chain around your neck. It’s like athletes who make things harder for themselves, or circus performers who do something that’s a bit more difficult, which at least becomes a reward for themselves.

— Lars von Trier, 2020 interview


The central event

We’ve come to the end of the day: let us say that in the course of that day something important has happened, something significant, the sort of thing that could be the inspiration for a film, that has the makings of a conflict of ideas that could become a picture. But how did this day imprint itself on our memory? As something amorphous, vague, with no skeleton or schema. Like a cloud. And only the central event of that day has become concentrated, like a detailed report, lucid in meaning and clearly defined. Against the background of the rest of the day, that event stands out like a tree in the mist […] Isolated impressions of the day have set off impulses within us, evoked associations; objects and circumstances have stayed in our memory, but with no sharply defined contours, incomplete, apparently fortuitous. Can these impressions of life be conveyed through film? They undoubtedly can; indeed it is the special virtue of cinema, as the most realistic of the arts, to be the means of such communication.

– Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time (tr. Hunter-Blair), via here

Ecstatic film joy

25th of June. Ecstatic film joy! Yes, that probably covers it … We went to the forest and shot a fantastic scene, which turned out totally Fellinian. I broke with the Dogma rule about not having any aesthetics and sprinted over to that part of my childhood’s forest… it’s a strange part, because I’ve used almost all the forests and streams and God knows what out here, but precisely this part of the forest, which I think of as the most poetic and almost Japanese part, I’ve never used. I naturally steered towards it, as I’d do on any ordinary walk, and it’s a tiny little pine wood with green grass, and we were blessed with a windy day.

We got some great poetry out of moving the conversation that didn’t work the other night from inside, where it didn’t belong, to out here, with this fantastically high ceiling. It was inspiring somehow, and all those loonies walking around, it was actually—this just occurs to me—it was actually Truffaut’s Fahrenheit something-or-other, where they walk around in the forest memorizing books, and it’s beautiful as hell, of course. So the loons were walking around each in his or her own way, while Karen and Stoffer talked, and it really got very very poetic, for example the line where he says ‘in the Stone Age all the idiots died, but it doesn’t have to be like that anymore’. It was very poetic when the shot simultaneously panned out over all the idiots, especially Ped, who was in the wheelchair, it was just very beautiful and fantastically naive and sentimental and everything all at once. You might say those are the kinds of gifts you get along the way. Things you wouldn’t have written in a manuscript because it would be over the top, you suddenly get as a gift, and that’s allowed. That’s actually what all the Dogma rules are about—that you can allow yourself a lot of things precisely because of the rules. And it turned out fucking great, that scene.

Then we tried to work a bit creatively with the sound for the first time, that’s to say we stuck the microphone in the treetops and got the wind in the treetops over lots of shots of the spazzes just walking around, so we don’t hear their real sound, just the treetops. And it’s so so so over the top, an over-the-top cinematic cliché, which I’ve otherwise shied away from, but which suddenly, because we had to make the decision on the spot, became real and worked fucking brilliantly. Well, that’s what I think now, anyway, without having seen it. I was almost moved when Josephine and Jeppe touch each other while they’re spazzing. The funny thing about this film is that it only takes a milligram of love in some little corner, and you’re… and you break down in convulsive sobs. Maybe it’s just my brain that’s totally hyperactive, but that’s how I feel…

It’s a film that’s a lot less calculating than Breaking the Waves, and yet far far far far more calculating. Well, that might be hard to understand, not more calculating, but much more… I don’t know… allowing yourself to go on an effect-picnic with many many nods to Widerberg and Truffaut and Tarkovsky and blah blah blah. But it was fucking beautiful, and… when I was filming there I cried and on the way home I cried too, the soft little man in his stupid giant mobile home listening to the Spice Girls. And then I get—I can hardly bring myself to say this, but I guess a diary demands some sort of honesty—then I get so maudlin and suddenly afraid for… my talent. Well, this really isn’t easy to listen to, I’m totally aware of that, but when you’ve done a scene like that—and that’s why I’m talking about the ecstatic—you get scared that there’s some big big hubris that’ll drop down from the sky like a giant fist and squash you like one of those mosquitoes from the forest. I thought, ‘surely I’ll get cancer now, surely I’ll get cancer now’. There’s no way out once you get to that point. And it may be that we’ve achieved nothing today, but still the feeling is intact. I’m thinking, ‘for Chrissake, I’m brilliant, I’m brilliant, I’m brilliant’. I’m brilliant, and it’ll be interesting to see this in print when the film comes out and it gets the finger. But I still think that for the sake of the cause I have to say it as it is—that on the way home I thought ‘Jesus, this is awesome… Jesus, you can really do this shit, you can really set these things free’.

— Lars von Trier, The Idiots film diary (my trans.)

I bring people like me here

A stalker must not enter the room. A stalker must not enter the Zone with an ulterior motive. Yes, you’re right, I’m a louse. I haven’t done any good in this world, and I can’t do any. I couldn’t give anything even to my wife. I can’t have any friends either. But don’t take from me what’s mine! They’ve already taken everything from me back there, behind the barbed wire. So all that’s mine is here. You understand? Here! In the Zone! My happiness, my freedom, my self-respect, it’s all here! I bring people like me here, desperate and tormented. People who have nothing else to hope for.

— Tarkovsky, Stalker

The aim of art is to prepare a person for death.

— Tarkovsky

‘Have you come to pray for a baby too? Or to be spared them?’
‘I’m just looking.’
‘If there are any casual onlookers who aren’t supplicants, then nothing happens.’
‘What is supposed to happen?’
‘Whatever you like, whatever you need most. But you should at least kneel down.’

— Tarkovsky, Nostalgia

Tarkovsky and Bergman

A. The pressure Rublev is subject to is not an exception. An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world. This is the issue in Andrei Rublev; the search for harmonic relationships among men, between art and life, between time and history. That’s what my film is all about.

Q. What is art?

A. Before defining art or any concept we must answer a far broader question. What’s the meaning of man’s life on earth? Maybe we are here to enhance ourselves spiritually. If our life tends to this spiritual enrichment, then art is a means to get there. This is in accordance with my definition of life. Art should help man in this process. Some say that art helps man to know the world like any other intellectual activity. I don’t believe in this possibility of knowing; I am almost an agnostic. Knowledge distracts us from our main purpose in life. The more we know the less we know; getting deeper, our horizon becomes narrower. Art enriches man’s own spiritual capabilities and he can then rise above himself to use what we call ‘free will’.



When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn’t explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally. Only a few times have I managed to creep inside. Most of my conscious efforts have ended in embarrassing failure.

— Bergman, Laterna Magica