(Credit: Mosfilm)

Breaking down Andrei Tarkovsky masterpiece ‘Solaris’ shot by shot: A video essay

We have forgotten to observe. Instead of observing, we do things according to patterns.”
—Andrei Tarkovsky

Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is widely considered to be one of the most influential artistic voices in the history of cinema. Over a career of 25 years, Tarkovsky added seven feature films in a nearly flawless filmography. The fact that his oeuvre is still being discussed and dissected by students, audiences and even other filmmakers, 34 years after his death, is proof of the enduring importance of his work.

Video essayist Antonios Papantoniou decided to break down one of Tarkovsky’s greatest films, the 1972 sci-fi masterpiece Solaris. Antonios chose four particular scenes for the analysis, focusing on how Tarkovsky makes use of brilliant visual narrative. The product is a fascinating video essay which spots recurring motifs and highlights Tarkovsky’s poetic interpretation of a scientific realm.

The film, described as a ‘Soviet science fiction art film’, is based on Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel of the same name and famously stars both Donatas Banionis and Natalya Bondarchuk. “A psychologist is sent to a space station orbiting a planet called Solaris to investigate the death of a doctor and the mental problems of cosmonauts on the station,” the official film synopsis reads. “He soon discovers that the water on the planet is a type of brain which brings out repressed memories and obsessions.”

Solaris, considered one of the greatest films in the history cinema, marked a significant change in the approach to the genre of science fiction. Tarkovsky, disillusioned by the approach of western filmmakers and their shallow vision, attempted to add deeper layers of emotional and understanding.

“Diametrically different from Hollywood’s extravagant moviemaking Tarkovsky’s Solaris is in a cinematic universe of its own,” writes Papantoniou. “Symbolic images and metaphysical manifestations are created and expressed in a poetic way where every visual detail matters.”

While the scene plays, the essayist identifies the type of shot being used, the camera angle, the camera movement, and even the duration of each shot. Shot by Shot is an important part of the extensive discourse that Solaris has generated since its release, beautifully explaining the cinematic philosophy of Andrei Tarkovsky.

Watch the video essay here:

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