Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Ivan's Childhood (1962, Soviet Union, Andrei Tarkovsky)

'Ivan's Childhood' was the debut feature of the great Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky. It was one of a number of films made during the Krushchev Thaw which focused on the Second World War in a human context rather than pure political propaganda extolling the heroics of the Great Patriotic War. 'The Cranes Are Flying', a sublimely poetic account of lovers separated by war is perhaps the peak of these such films, but 'Ivan's Childhood' is no less effective, and Tarkovsky works wonders from deceptively slight material.

Ivan, a twelve year old boy is seen looking through a cobweb, running through the forest and then levitating. It is a dream which ends with the boy calling for his mother. The reality is then shown; Ivan wading through muddy waters to reach a group of Soviet troops, arriving in a shivering and half dead state. It emerges that he has been on spying missions for the Soviet high command, something he has been able to achieve due to his small and slight stature.

Ivan is a boy in an extraordinary situation, and Tarkovsky shows how he deals with this through contrasting reality and dreams. Where reality is manifested by dark and claustrophobic environments where troops await the advance of the Nazis, Ivan's dreams are of happier times with his mother and sister, on sunlit beaches. Are these dreams a reflection of a past reality or just Ivan's imagination at work? We later discover just why Ivan is so determined to put himself at risk on dangerous missions; he vowed to avenge the death of his family at the hands of the Nazis - in his dreams, Ivan's mother asks him to avenge them. Even when Soviet officers attempt to send him to military school, he threatens to leave and join the partisans. Despite this maturity and dedication, Tarkovsky does not over-emphasise Ivan's heroism, making it an emotive decision that risks his own life.

Nearly twenty five years later, 'Come and See', directed by Elem Klimov followed similar themes - an orphaned boy thrown into the horrors of war and the psychological effects of this, so they make pretty useful companion pieces in that respect. Even at this stage though, the poetic and artistic dimension of Tarkovsky's film making approach is evident; recurring motifs of the elements (dripping water) etc, but the effectiveness of this film lies in its simplicity, which contrasts with the greater depth and ambition of Tarkovsky's subsequent films. A film that has been considered an inspiration by no less than Bergman, Paradjanov and Kieslowski, there are surely few better debut features. 4/5

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