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The 5 films that inspired Andrei Tarkovsky

“Relating a person to the whole world: that is the meaning of cinema.” – Andrei Tarkovsky

One of the finest voices of 20th-century cinema, Russian filmmaker, theatre director, writer, and theorist Andrei Tarkovsky is widely regarded as one of the industry’s greatest and most influential minds. As a result of his affluence of knowledge, Tarkovsky’s influences range far and wide, from pre-war silent cinema, through the greats of the mid-century.

According to fellow student Shavkat Abdusalmov, Tarkovsky was fascinated by Japanese films, amazed by how each character on the screen is exceptional and how everyday events are elevated into something special. The director also expressed his interest in the art of Haiku, and its ability to create “images in such a way that they mean nothing beyond themselves”. 

The Russian filmmaker, however, tended to avoid science fiction, largely dismissing the genre for its “comic book” trappings, though did make one famous exception for James Cameron’s The Terminator, saying that the film’s “vision of the future and the relation between man and its destiny is pushing the frontier of cinema as an art”. 

Tarkovsky was, however, a cynical critic and berated The Terminator’s “brutality and low acting skills”, favouring instead the cinema of old that elicited a certain, more brutally realistic take on reality. He notes 1930s Earth, from filmmaker Aleksandr Dovzhenko as a significant inspiration to his later filmography, for example, noting that he re-watched the film at the dawn of each new project. “If one absolutely needs to compare me to someone, it should be Dovzhenko. He was the first director for whom the problem of atmosphere was particularly important,” Tarkovsky stated, echoing Dovzhenko’s iconic landscapes in his 1975 film, Mirror.

The silent world of Charlie Chaplin, Tarkovsky considered to be the prelude to ‘real’ filmmaking, placing the actor and director’s City Lights in a list of his top five favourite films. Admiring the efficiency of Charlie Chaplin’s work, and how the filmmaker used minimalism to refine his films, Tarkovsky looked upon Chaplin’s films as a spiritual experience, recognising how the camera elicits a certain human spirit. Though Tarkovsky may not be known for his comedy films, it’s nice to know that the director did indeed have a funny bone.

The influence of filmmaker Jean Vigo can be seen illustrated throughout Tarkovsky’s filmography, the French filmmaker believed that the frame of the film was an emotional one and one that should convey experience not fabricated construction. Tarkovsky noted a particular scene in Vigos 1934 film L’Atalante which greatly affected the Russian filmmaker, where newlyweds criss-cross from the church to their barge, “What is this? A ritual, a dance of fertility?” Tarkovsky cried. Continuing, the director states: “No, the episode is significant not for a literary retelling, not in its symbolism, not in its visual metaphoricity, but in its concrete saturated existence. We see a form filled with feeling”.

Having previously mentioned Andrei Tarkovsky’s love of Japanese culture and cinema, the director notes filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi aesthetic as a major influence on his own style of filmmaking. This was so far that, in an interview in 1979, Tarkovsky admitted to one scene in Andrei Rublev being heavily inspired by Mizoguchi’s 1953 film Ugetsu Monogatari. “The quality of the image in black and white, the landscape, the opacity of the overcast sky has a strange resemblance to an ink-drawn Chinese landscape […] It’s a scene that has nothing to do with the plot of the story. It attempts to express the state of a soul,” Tarkovsky states. He would go on to include Mizoguchi in an exclusive group of filmmakers he would call ‘the poets of cinema’.

Take a look at the full list of films that inspired Andrei Tarkovsky below.

5 films that inspired Andrei Tarkovsky:

  • Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930)
  • City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
  • L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
  • Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
  • Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)

Bookending this list of the five films that inspired Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is Ingmar Bergman’s 1963 film Winter Light, particularly the film’s expressive use of sound. Admiring the use of silence to establish the emptiness of Winter Light’s materialistic world, the director noted one particular moment in the film when the body of a fisherman is discovered.

All that can be heard is the sound of water from the nearby stream, interrogating the lead character with a crisis of natural spirituality. Loving the soundtrack to such an extent, Tarkovsky would ask the sound mixer Owe Svensson to join him on his final film, The Sacrifice.

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