Between 1962 and 1986, Andrey Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (tahr-KAWF-skee) directed some of the best films of the twentieth century. Ingmar Bergman called him “the most important director of our time.” Born in Moscow and raised in Tuchkovo, Tarkovsky was always torn between his Russian roots and his international role as an artist. Soviet authorities restricted the release and promotion of his films in Russia and abroad. When he defected to the West in July, 1984, it was with profound ambivalence: Like the character in his 1983 film Nostalgia, he suffered from a powerful sense of disorientation, homesickness, and loss. He died two years later in Paris, from cancer, at the age of fifty-six.
Tarkovsky’s films show an unrelenting concern for the human spirit in an age of rapid technological advances. Humankind, he believed, must turn inward and renew its concern with spirituality or else run the risk of self-annihilation. His final film, The Sacrifice, is a testament to this idea: A man takes drastic personal action—he burns down his house and refuses to speak—as a nuclear war looms imminent. Tarkovsky certainly did not see the materialistic, consumer-oriented West as the answer to the world’s spiritual woes. His films explore the boundaries of personal freedom versus an ideal moral order; this duality serves as the fundamental conflict of his protagonists. They want unlimited freedom, but they strive to realize moral perfection.
Tarkovsky spent his early childhood in Tuchkovo, a rural farming village. His father, a soldier in World War II, came home intermittently. His mother stayed home at the family farm and took care of the children. Tarkovsky idealized his parents. His father, Arseniy, was a poet and translator; his mother, Maria Ivanovna, was an actress. Andrey knew that he also would work in the arts but did not know exactly how.
After leaving the Institute of Oriental Languages in 1954, Tarkovsky spent a year as a geological prospector in Siberia. His work involved solitary walks for hundreds of miles over vast, desolate landscapes. This experience undoubtedly...
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