Jerzy Illg and Leonard Neuger
"I'm interested in the problem of inner freedom..."
The following interview was tape-recorded in March 1985 in Stockholm. It is
presented here for the first time in English. Nostalghia.com wishes
to thank Mr. Illg and Mr. Neuger for giving us their permission to
translate and post this remarkable interview. Translation from the
Polish language was done by Jan. Here is the authors' 1987 introduction:
The conversation presented here took place in March 1985 in Stockholm. At that time
Tarkovsky worked on his — as it turned out — last film, a deep
metaphysical treatise whose title The Sacrifice was as significant as that
of his previous film. He was shielded from the journalists and the curious by a
large group of collaborators and associates, and our interview took place
mainly because Tarkovsky knew he would be meeting someone from Poland,
a country close to his heart, whose achievements and transformation in the early '80s
he welcomed — as he admitted — with great joy, concern, and hope.
Thus it became more than an ordinary interview granted the press by a great creator.
The conversation instead of taking the agreed-upon one hour has taken four hours during
which we moved from the Stockholm TV building to Tarkovsky's home. Disappointed with
misunderstandings his contacts with people in the West had frequently resulted in,
he was clearly happy to talk to someone from "there." Over two hours were
recorded on audio tape and are transcribed below. It is one of the last
statements of this length by Tarkovsky — soon after it took place, the news of his
illness was spreading around the world.
(We'd like to thank Ms. Janina Ludawska and Mr. Wacław Mucha for their help in
translating this conversation to Polish — J.I., L.N.)
"Z Andriejem Tarkowskim rozmawiają Jerzy Illg, Leonard Neuger", in Res Publica (1),
Warsaw 1987, pp. 137–160.
"Interesuje mnie problem wewnętrznej wolności...", in Powiększenie 1/2 (25/26),
Cracow 1987, pp. 146–176. [the most complete version and the basis for this translation]
German: "Kunst, Freiheit, Einsamkeit", in Individualität 1987 (16), pp. 4–29.
Russian (slightly abbreviated): "Vstat na put", in Iskusstvo kino 1989 (2), pp. 109–130.
Italian: In Corriere della Sera (exact reference not known).
French: In Lettres internationales, No. 64, printemps 1988
Swedish and Norwegian translations also exist.
Q: In Mirror you have presented us your biography. What
kind of mirror did you use? Is this a mirror like Stendhal's, a mirror
which travels down the road, or is it a mirror in which you have found
yourself, learnt something about yourself that you didn't know previously?
In other words: is this a realistic work or a subjective auto-creation?
Or perhaps your film is an attempt to put together pieces of a broken mirror
and frame them within cinematic image, to compose a complete whole from
A: Cinema in general always creates a possibility of putting pieces together
into a whole. A film consists after all of separate shots like a mosaic
— of separate fragments of different colour and texture. And it may be
that each fragment on its own is — it would seem — of no significance.
But within that whole it becomes an absolutely necessary element, it exists
only within that whole. That's why cinema is important to me in the sense
that there is not, there cannot be any fragment in film which wouldn't
be thought through with an eye for the final result. And each individual
fragment is coloured so to speak with a common meaning by the entire whole.
That is, the fragment does not function as an autonomous symbol but it
exists only as a portion of some unique and original world. That's why
Mirror is in a sense closest to my theoretical concept of cinema.
You are asking: what kind of mirror is it? Well, first of all — this
film was based on my own screenplay containing no invented episodes. All
the episodes were really part of our family history. All of them, without
exception. The only made up episode is the illness of the narrator, the
author (whom we do not see on the screen). By the way, this very interesting
episode was necessary in order to convey the author's spiritual crisis,
the state of his soul. Perhaps he is mortally ill and perhaps this is the
reason for the recollections that make up the film — as with a man who
remembers the most important moments of his life before he dies. So this
is not a simple violence done by the author to his memory — I remember
only what I want — no, these are recollections of a dying man, weighing
in his conscience the episodes he recalls. Thus the only invented episode
turns out to be a necessary prerequisite for other, completely true recollections.
You are asking whether this kind of creation, this creating of one's
own world — is this truth? Well, it is truth of course but as refracted
through my memory. Consider for example my childhood home which we filmed,
which you see in the film — this is a set. That is, the house was reconstructed
in precisely the same spot where it had stood before, many years ago. What
was left there was a... not even the foundation, only a hole that had once
contained it. And precisely at this spot the house was rebuilt, reconstructed
from photographs. This was extremely important to me — not because I wanted
to be a naturalist of some kind but because my whole personal attitude
toward the film's content depended upon it; it would have been a personal
drama for me if the house had looked different. Of course the trees have grown
a lot at this place, everything overgrew, we had to cut down a lot. But
when I brought my Mum there, who appears in several sequences, she was
so moved by this sight that I understood immediately it created the right
One would think: why was such an elaborate reconstruction of the past
necessary? Or not even the past but what I remembered and how I remembered
it. I didn't try to search for a particular form for the internal and subjective
memories, so to speak; on the contrary — I strived to reproduce everything
the way it was i.e., to literally repeat what was fixed in my memory. And
the result turned very strange... It was for me a singular experience.
I made a film with not a single episode composed or invented in order to
interest the viewer, to attract his attention, to explain anything to him
— these were truly recollections concerning our family, my biography, my
life. And despite the fact — or perhaps because of it — that this was really
a very private story, I received a lot of letters afterwards in which the
viewers were asking me the rhetorical question: "How did you find out about
my life?" And this is very important, very important in a certain inward
sense. What does it mean? I mention it as a very important fact in a moral,
spiritual sense because if someone expresses his true feelings in a work
of art, they cannot remain secrets to others. If the director or the author
is lying, makes things up artificially, his work becomes entirely...
Yes. In Italy they say cervellotico, troppo cervellotico,
it means "artificial, contrived." Such work does not move anyone. So a mutual
understanding between the author and the audience, without which work of
art does not exist, is possible only when the creator is being honest.
Which doesn't imply an honest author automatically means an outstanding
work, ability and talent remain the basic prerequisites, without artist's
honesty, however, true artistic creation is impossible. I believe if one
tells the truth, some kind of inner truth, one will always be understood.
You see what I'm saying? — even when the problems shown are most complex,
the sequence of images, formal structure of the work most complicated —
for the creator the fundamental problem will always be honesty.
Concerning its structure, Mirror for me is in general the
most complicated of my films — as a structure, not as a fragment considered
separately but precisely as a construction; its dramaturgy is extraordinarily
Just like the structure of dreams or reminiscences. After all this
is not just a regular retrospection.
Right. This is not a regular retrospection. There are many such complications
there which I don't even completely understand myself. For example, it
was very important for me to have my mother in some scenes. There is one
episode in the film in which the boy, Ignat, is sitting... not Ignat...
what was his name? — the author's son, he is sitting in his father's empty
room, in the present, in our times. This is the narrator's son although
the boy plays both the author's son and the author himself when he was
a boy. And as he is sitting there we hear the doorbell, he opens the door
and a woman enters and she says: "Oh, I think I've got the wrong place"
— she was at the wrong door. This is my mother. And she is the grandmother
of this boy who opens the door for her. But why doesn't she recognise him,
why doesn't the grandson recognise her? — one has completely no idea. That
is — firstly, this wasn't explained by the plot, in the screenplay, and
secondly — even for me this was unclear.
Not everything in life is understandable and clear...
No, for me it is — how can I put it — coming to terms with various emotional
bonds. It was extremely important for me to see the face of my mother, this
is a story about her after all, who enters the doorway uneasily, kind of
timidly, a bit à la Dostoyevsky, à la the Marmyeladovs.
She says then to her grandson: "I think I've got the wrong place." Can you
imagine this psychological state? It was important for me to see my mother
in this condition, to see her face when she is confused, when she feels
timid, ashamed. But I understood it too late to compose some precise subplot,
to write the screenplay in such a way as to make it clear why she didn't
recognise him — whether it was because her eyesight was bad... It would
have been a very easy thing to explain this. But I simply said to myself:
I'm not going to invent anything. Let her open the door, enter, not recognise
her son [sic] and the boy won't recognise her, and in this state she will
leave and close the door. It's a state of human soul which is particularly
close to me, a state of some kind of despondency, spiritual restriction
— it was important for me to see this. It's a portrait of a human being
in a state of certain humiliation, certain feeling of being brought down.
And when one puts this side by side with the scenes of her youth — this
episode reminds me then of another one: when as a young woman she comes
to that doctor to sell her the earrings. She is standing in the rain, she
is explaining something, talking about something, why in the rain? What
Perhaps it would be much better if there were no riddles of this sort.
But there are several episodes like that completely with no explanation,
incomprehensible, we just have no idea what they mean. For example, people
would say: "and who is this older woman sitting over there asking him to
read the letter from Pushkin to Chaadayev? What woman is this? Akhmatova?"
— Everybody says that. She in fact does look a bit like her, she has the
same profile and she could remind her. The woman is played by Tamara
Ogorodnikova, our production manager, she was in fact already our production
manager for Rublov, she is our great friend whom I photographed
in almost all my films. She was like a talisman to me. I didn't think this
was Akhmatova. For me she was a person from "there" who represents a continuation
of certain cultural traditions, she is attempting at all cost to tie this
boy to them, tie them to a person who is young and lives in this day and
age. This is very important, in brief — it's a certain tendency, certain
cultural roots. Here is this house, here is the man who lives in it, the
author, and here is his son who somehow is influenced by this atmosphere,
those roots. After all it is not precisely delineated who this woman is.
Why Akhmatova? — A bit pretentious. This isn't any Akhmatova. Simply put,
it is precisely this woman who mends the torn thread of time — just as
in Shakespeare, in Hamlet. She restores it in a cultural, spiritual
sense. It's a bond between modern times and the times past, the time of
Pushkin or perhaps a later time — it doesn't matter.
A very important, most important experience I gained with this film
was that it turned out to be as important to the audience as it was to
me. And it didn't matter that it was a story only about our family and
nothing else. Thanks to this experience I saw and I understood many things.
This film proved there was a bond between me as a director, as an artist
if you will, and the people for whom I worked. That's why this film turned
out to be so important to me because when I understood that, nobody could
complain to me that I did not make films for people. Although everybody
complained about it later anyway. But I couldn't make this complaint to
Your life and that of your family did not shape according to typical
requirements of realism. It wasn't very typical — although viewers found
in it, as you mention, a reflected image of their own lives. What have
your parents, your home, your closest family circle, given you? And later,
what was the source of your artistic and cultural inspiration? We ask this
question because for a Polish viewer Russian artists are people with no
biography — this is very characteristic — while western artists frequently
have almost nothing but biography.
You know — this is correct, but also incorrect. You are right and also
wrong in a sense. You are wrong about Russian artists in the sense that
you take no notice of original stories of their lives. Of course, if one
draws a parallel with modern artists then perhaps you are right. But I
never drew parallels between myself and present-day artists. I have always
felt somehow connected with artists of the 19th century. And
if you take for example Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, other writers from this circle,
Chekhov, Turgenev, Lermontov or, say, Bunin — then you'll see how unique
their lives were and how closely their works were connected with those
lives, with their fate.
Naturally, what I have said does not mean I'm completely removing myself,
so to speak, from the context of the culture of the '60s, '70s, and '80s
in the Soviet Union. This is not the case. But I am categorically against
opinions that suddenly some gulf opened after the revolution. This gulf
was intentionally created in order to begin some new stage in the development
of Russian culture. But I believe no culture can develop in vacuum. We
can try to transplant some precious plant, pluck and transplant it. But
it won't grow, nothing will grow. That's why the writers at the turning
point experienced their fates so tragically, those who began writing before
the revolution and continued their work afterwards: Alexei Tolstoy, Gorky,
Mayakovsky, Blok. That's the drama. Bunin... This is in general a whole
terrible drama. Akhmatova... God knows who else. Tragedy. Tsvetaeva...
Nothing was gained, the transplant was an impossibility. And there should
have been no transplant. One simply should have never allowed this terrible
experiment on culture. Such vivisections are even more cruel than violations
of human body as they imprison the spirit.
Take Platonov for example. He completely belongs to the period, let's
say, of the development of the Soviet period in Russia. And he is a typically
Russian writer. His life is of course one of a kind and it reflected sharply
on his works. So you are not completely right. And when you talk about
me in this context then my ties with classic Russian culture are very important
to me. This culture naturally had its continuation and it has it to this
day. I don't think it's dead. I was one of those artists who through their
life and work attempted — perhaps even unconsciously — to realise this
bond between Russia's past and future. The loss of this bond would be fatal
to me, I could not exist without it. It is always the artist who ties
the past with the future. He lives not just at a certain instant, he is
a medium so to speak, a ferryman from the past into the future.
What can I say then about my family here? My father is a poet. He was
quite a young boy when the revolution came and one cannot really say he
was an adult before the revolution. That wouldn't be correct at all. He
grew up already during Soviet times. He was born in 1906, so in 1917 he
was 11 years old, he was a completely immature boy. But he was familiar
with the cultural tradition, he was educated. He graduated from the Bryusov
Literary Institute and he knew many, almost all of the leading Russian
poets. Of course one cannot imagine him apart from Russian poetic tradition,
from that line of Blok, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Zabolotsky. This
was for me very important, in certain way I received all this from
I was brought up by my parents, especially by my mother because my father
left her when I was 3 years old. That's why in reality I was brought up
by my mother. It would be difficult to say anything definite about my father's
influence on me as a poet. He influenced me more in
some biological sense at an unconscious level — although I'm not a Freud
fan. I'm absolutely not a Freud fan. Jung does not suit me either. Freud
is simply a vulgar materialist. Same as Pavlov only from a different angle.
His theory is merely one possible materialistic variant of explaining human
I think my father had no influence on me, inner influence. I owe everything
mainly to my mother. It was she who helped me find myself. And even in
the film one can clearly see our living conditions were very tough, very
difficult. Such were the times. Then my mother was left alone, I was 3
years old, my sister 1 year and a half and mother was bringing us up simply
all the way, she never married, she was always with us. She didn't marry
for the second time, she loved her husband, my father, all her life. She
was an amazing woman, really a saint. In the beginning she was completely
unprepared for life, in no way. And then around this completely defenceless
woman the whole world collapsed, i.e. firstly, she had no profession as
she had two children. Both parents were studying at the Bryusov Institute
but my mother was then pregnant with my sister and she got no diploma,
nothing. She had no time to find herself as an educated woman, prepared.
She tried her hand at literature, I've seen samples of her prose, etc.
She could have realised herself completely differently were it not for that
catastrophe that beset her.
So we really had no means, my mother got a job simply as a proofreader
at a publishing house and she worked there to the end, i.e., still after
the war, for a long time, until she had an opportunity to retire. I cannot
comprehend at all how she managed, how she withstood it, even physically...
It's incomprehensible. How did she manage to provide education for us?
I finished a school of painting and sculpting in Moscow and you had to
pay for it. Where did she get the money from? I have also finished a music
school and took lessons from a teacher paid by my mother.
That was before the war?
That was before, during, and after the war. I was supposed to become a
musician but this didn't appeal to me. I cannot understand at all how all this
was possible. One could say: well, of course, there must have been some
means, a child in an educated family, etc., naturally. — Well, there
was nothing natural in this because we walked literally barefoot. In the
summer we didn't wear shoes at all, we hadn't any. In the winter I wore
felt boots, and my mother when she needed to go outside... we... — poverty
is not even the right word, this was worse than destitution. Totally incomprehensible,
she... Incomprehensible. If it wasn't for her, none of this would have
happened of course. I simply owe everything to my mother.
Because of that she obviously had a very strong influence on me — influence
is not even the right word — simply the whole world is for me connected
with my mother. Except I didn't really realise this while she was alive.
And only later, when she died, I suddenly became aware of this. What's
more, even when I was making that film — of course she was still alive
then — I did not fully understand what it was about. I thought I was making
a film about myself, like Tolstoy who wrote Childhood, Boyhood and Youth
when he lived in Odessa — he wrote about himself. And only when I finished
the film I understood it was not about me but about my mother. This is
a film which — from my point of view — became in this way considerably
more noble-minded than its original idea. The change which ennobled this
idea so perfectly occurred during the work on film, that is to say the
film began with me as I was the eye of those recollections so to speak;
but then something completely different turned out. And the longer I worked
on the film the more obvious it was to me what this film was about.
When I left the cinema I was thinking that here was a film made as
a poem, that it was — a cinematic impossibility it would seem — an intimate
Perhaps, I don't know. I wasn't thinking then about form at all, I wasn't
trying to invent anything special. What I was after was a resurrection
in memory, or rather not in memory but on screen, things that were important
to me. And in general the most important thing was to take just this path
and not the path of, say, Alain Resnais who constructs his recollections,
or Robbe-Grillet to take an example from modern literature. A very important
aspect of artistic creation for a Russian artist has always been not making
it more beautiful but a sense of moral obligation.
What is your relation to the great Russian cinema tradition? Who
are your masters?
And what does it mean the great Russian cinema?
Ah yes. Yes... You know, for me Dovzhenko and Pudovkin are much more
important than Eisenstein.
As the creator of Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky?
In general. By the way, Eisenstein was a director completely misunderstood
by Soviet leaders, especially by Stalin. Misunderstood — because had Stalin
understood the essence of Eisenstein's work he'd never have started to
persecute him. This is a total mystery to me. I know how it happened, more
or less I have an idea. Eisenstein was brilliant, thoroughly educated;
at that time in cinema no director was so educated, so intelligent. Cinema
was made by young boys then, typically self-taught, with no formal education
at all, they came to cinema sort of straight from the revolution.
But there were emotions...
Oh yes, there were emotions... Revolutionary pathos, hopes for the future,
some constructive cultural transformation... In general it was a good thing...
Eisenstein was one of the few, perhaps the only one who appreciated the
significance of tradition, he knew what continuity was, cultural heritage.
But he didn't absorb it, in his heart, he was over-intellectualised, he
was a terrible rationalist, cold, calculated, directed only by reason.
He tried his constructions on paper first. Like a calculator. He drew everything.
Not that he drew film frames but that he would think everything over and
then he'd cram it all inside the frame. He didn't draw from life, life
didn't influence him in any way. What influenced him was ideas which he
constructed, transformed into some form, as a rule completely lifeless,
rigid as iron, very formal, dry, devoid of any feeling. Film form, its
formal features, photography, light, atmosphere — none of it existed for
him at all, it all had this thought-out character, whether some quotes
from paintings or other contrived compositions.This was in a sense a typical
concept of synthetic cinema, where cinema appeared as a union of graphic arts,
painting, theatre, music, and everything else — except cinema as such wasn't
there. As if the sum of all these parts were to result in this new art.
To put it mildly — it's a huge misunderstanding as cinema is governed
by its own specific character which distinguishes it from other arts. Eisenstein
didn't succeed in expressing through his art what we call the specific
art of cinema, he utilised a bit of everything and didn't notice what was
specific to cinematography. Had he noticed, he'd have cut, thrown aside
all remaining types of art and would have left only "it" in it.
There is, however, this film about Mexico...
Yes, I've seen this material abroad. To me it seems very weak, naive
— the acting, character development, stage situations. That's poor theatre,
a poster of a terribly naive design.
But let's consider Ivan the Terrible for example. I cannot understand
at all why the first part of this film was, as you know, approved, it was
praised while the second part was resoundingly condemned. Why?! I cannot
comprehend it. It talked about the oprichnina as well, he was talking
precisely about that, justification of terror, of the oprichnina which
was cutting heads right and left, boyars' heads especially. Eisenstein in this
film sided with reinforcing autocracy, with strengthening of centralised
power. It was clear even for the blind what this film was about. And suddenly
instead of showering him with gold and medals they begin to persecute him
for this film. A total mystery.
Then he makes his next film (and I won't even mention Alexander Nevsky
as here everything is obvious, the desire to satisfy society's expectations
is clear) titled
I don't know this one.
What do you mean you don't know? You should know it if you ask me about
Eisenstein. He was a 1920s and '30s hero, the time of collectivisation,
he was a boy, a schoolboy who was a Pioneer [Boy Scout] and whose bad luck
was to be from a kulak family. And he became, how should I describe it,
a kind of Soviet saint because he denounced his own parents to the authorities.
Ah, then I know him, that's Pavlik Morozov.
Well, that's exactly who I'm talking about.
But I don't know this film.
Here is the hero of the film whom Eisenstein presented as a saint, as
a victim, a holy victim, a martyr who gave his life for idea. And Eisenstein
is losing himself, suddenly it appears he is on the verge of a catastrophe.
I don't understand it. It's like everything is just backwards. He was searching
for a possibility to strengthen certain ideas that were in the air at that
time and later prevailed. And all of a sudden they are rejecting it.
Although... This should be told — the history of this film was as follows.
When Eisenstein began shooting it, his friends, colleagues, warned the
authorities that Eisenstein was making some anti-Soviet film. Formalistic
and anti-Soviet with some suspicious mysticism added to the mix, something
along these lines. A frightened cinematography administration denounced
this to Stalin. There was a calculation in it. And Stalin ordered
the materials brought to the Kremlin. He watches the material and he
sees something on fire, barrels are rolling down an incline from the second
floor, an attempt to save the kolkhoz goods which the kulaks — naturally
— had set on fire. The barrels are rolling down from a shed on fire, once,
twice, three times, in a close-up, in a long shot, from a high angle, from
a low angle... After a while Stalin could not stand it any longer: Enough
of this scandal!
And he left the room. From my point of view Eisenstein,
being one of the greatest theorists and individualities of the Soviet cinema,
was simply done for by his colleagues. Because I knew the people, I used
to meet the people who at those unending meetings were accusing him
of formalism and ideological deviation, they shouted, they demanded self-accusation
from him. I know them, I discussed this subject with them. They looked
completely different after the 20th Congress, they presented
themselves as colleagues who defended him, they were telling some fairy
tales about Eisenstein, claimed they were his friends. And all of them
were trampling him with their own feet. Most of them. I know this very
well from those people themselves. Well, that's how it was... These are
very strange life stories.
Dovzhenko is certainly closest to my heart because he felt nature like
nobody else, he was really attached to earth. This is for me very important
in general. Of course here I have in mind the early Dovzhenko from his
silent period — he meant a lot to me. I'm thinking above all about his
concept of spiritualisation of nature, this sort of pantheism. In some
sense — not literally of course — I feel very close to pantheism. And pantheism
has left a strong mark on Dovzhenko, he loved nature very much, he was
able to see and feel it. This is what was so meaningful to me, I consider
it very important. After all Soviet filmmakers could not feel nature at
all, they didn't understand it, it didn't resonate with them in any way,
it didn't mean anything. Dovzhenko was the only director who did not tear
cinematographic image away from the atmosphere, from this earth, from this
life, etc. For other directors all that was a background, more or less natural,
a rigid background while for him this was the element, he somehow felt
internally connected with nature's life.
Currently one such artist who is sensitive to nature, feeling it,
is probably Shukshin in The Red Cranberry Tree for example.
Ah yes, yes... Of course, he could feel nature, having grown up in the country he could
not but feel and understand it. He lived it, definitely. But Dovzhenko
had the ability to show it, Shukshin couldn't show it at all, one can at
most surmise it. His landscapes lack artistry, they are commonplace sometimes,
they enter his films as if accidentally. But Dovzhenko paid great attention
to them, he strived to find himself in nature.
Would you agree to call your films Romantic?
No, I would not.
Yet we find in them such recurring motifs as Romantic journeys in
search of one's identity, absolute values; we are dealing with sacralisation
of the world, search for the sacred, mythologising of events; finally,
we have faith in the original purity of the spiritual culture an artist
is to express. The spirit of all this is very Romantic.
You said it very beautifully but I get the impression what you've characterised
here isn't Romanticism at all. What you've just described has absolutely
nothing to do with it. I guess Romanticism... Whenever I hear the word
"Romanticism" I get frightened. Because Romanticism is an attempt... it's
not even an attempt, it is a way of expressing a world view, a perception
of reality in which man sees in real events, in the real world, more than
there really is. Thus when you mention something sacred, search for truth,
etc. — for me this...
This isn't Romanticism?
This isn't Romanticism because I do not make reality larger than it
is. For me reality is in general much greater than what I can find in it,
much deeper and more sacred than I'm able to perceive. Romanticists thought
life was much richer than what they could see, i.e. they were guessing,
they believed life was not so plain, that there was depth in it, a lot
of what we call the exotic, metaphysics, what in itself escapes our cognizance,
what cannot be grasped through knowledge. They were guessing it, were attempting
to express it. Let me use an example: there are people who can see an aura,
a certain multi-coloured glow around human body, those people have certain
senses developed to a higher degree than most people. I spoke not too long
ago to one such man in Berlin, a Chinese — he could treat you, he knows
perfectly well what your condition is, how you feel, what are your problems
— he can see all this in the aura.
This phenomenon was confirmed by the Kirlian photography.
Yes, these experiments are related to it — but such person simply can
aura with his own eyes while romanticists tried to invent it, to guess
that it should exist — while a poet can see it.
You might say: but there were poets amongst romanticists. Of course,
I'm not denying it. There was Hoffmann whom I simply adore, there was Lermontov,
Tyutchev, one of the deepest, a staggering poet, there were many of them...
It's all true. But can we really call them romanticists? — They are not
romanticists, absolutely they are not romanticists. And Hoffmann is a romanticist.
So when they tell me: Romanticism... Obviously — the form used by these artists
becomes sort of dignified, enlarged, beautified, ennobled. I think life
is beautiful enough, there is enough depth and spirituality in it that
it's not necessary to change anything — it is us who should take care of
our own development, in the spiritual sense, instead of attempting to make
reality more beautiful. Therefore this Romantic costume results from a
lack of faith within man or faith mostly in products of one's own imagination.
Yes. For me personally Romanticism, or at least one of its important
ingredients, seems something quite different. Well, Dovzhenko once said
very aptly that even in a muddy puddle he could see stars reflecting. This
sort of image I can understand perfectly. But if someone said he could
see the "starry hosts of heaven" and an angel flying around, it would be
a sanitised, allegorical form, totally untrue, removed from life. But that's
the key, Dovzhenko could see it because he was a poet, life for him was
much fuller, filled with spirituality, than for those who searched in reality
around them merely an addition, a supplement to their own creative activities.
For a romanticist life provides a mere reason to create while for a poet
creation is a necessity because from the very beginning the spirit that's
alive in him demands that. Thus an artist, a poet — as opposed to
— understands better than anybody else that he becomes God-like. That's
logical. This is what ability to create is all about. It's as if this ability
was assumed from the very beginning, it does not belong to man. A romanticist
on the other hand would always attempt to find in his talent, in his own
creative activities, some particular beauty.
Or a mission.
A mission. Beautiful. Here I would agree with you completely.
There is a word in Polish, "wieszcz," we say for example that Adam
Mickiewicz was the nation's "wieszcz," a prophet, a seer who revealed before
the nation concealed truths...
Yes, yes, yes. Except this isn't Romanticism.
Also Pushkin was someone like that, and later many artists as well,
they are present even today and they serve... I believe that Romanticism
— in a narrower sense — manifests itself when an artist is intoxicated
with self-adoration, he creates himself in his art. That's a Romantic trait
I find abhorrent. Also this self-confirmation, this unending self-presentation
is not a result of his art, it is its goal. This is something I do not
find very agreeable and in general this is the Romanticism I don't like,
stuffy, terribly pretentious, pretentious paintings, artistic concepts,
etc. As in Schiller when the hero travels on two swans. Remember that?
That's kitsch. That's simply kitsch. By the way, in Russia, and I think
in Poland, there were never artists who would talk so much about themselves
as Novalis, as Kleist, Byron, Schiller, Wagner.
But this is Romantic individualism, one of the main distinguishing
features of Romanticism.
That's egocentrism, thinking only within the bounds of "And what else
is there for me?", that's terrible pretentiousness, a need to make oneself
the centre of the universe. The polar opposite is another world, the world
of poetry which I think of as Eastern, as Eastern culture. Take for example
the music of Wagner or, I don't know, Beethoven — that's an unending monologue
about oneself: look how poor I am, all in rags, how miserable, what Job
I am, how unhappy, how I suffer — like nobody else — I suffer like the
antique Prometheus... and here is how I love, and here is how I... You
understand? I, I, I, I. — Not too long ago I deliberately listened to music
from the 6th century B.C., it was classical Chinese ritual music.
It offers absolute dissolution of individual in nothingness, in nature,
in cosmos. That's the polar opposite in quality. Whenever an artist sort
of dissolves himself in a work of art, when he himself disappears without
a trace, this then is unbelievable poetry.
I'll quote an example which I find utterly spellbinding. In mediaeval
Japan there lived many painters who would find shelter at shoguns' courts
or stay with some feudal lords — Japan was partitioned into many provinces
back then — and they were excellent artists, highly praised, they would
reach heights of fame. And having attained this, many of them would suddenly
disappear, walk away. They would disappear completely and then reappear
at another shogun's court as completely unknown individuals, under different
names, and they would begin from scratch the career of a court painter
creating works in a totally different style. And in this manner some of
them would live five or six lifetimes.
This is not humility. One could, I suppose, call it humility but I would
rather use a different word — for me this is almost like a prayer in which
my own "I" has no significance. Because the talent bestowed upon me was
given from on high and — if I'm indeed given this talent — I'm somehow
distinguished. And if I'm distinguished it means I should serve it, I'm
a slave, not the centre of the universe — it's all clear. You quite rightly
mentioned humility but this is something much more important than humility.
Now we are close to Andrei Rublov...
Indeed, he was after all a religious man, a monk...
But the characters in your films are like Romantic heroes, they
are always on a path and this journey-pilgrimage becomes initiation: for
example Stalker is built around a typically Romantic initiation
In that case... I don't think you would claim Dostoyevsky was a romanticist?
But he is no romanticist — as shown by his epoch, his outlook on life.
Yet his heroes are always on a path too.
More like in a labyrinth.
Doesn't matter. It's always the same story of man searching, marching
towards his goal, like Diogenes with his lantern. Raskolnikov in Crime
and Punishment — that was the same thing of course, not the slightest
doubt about that. Alosha Karamazov — yes, of course. He is also always
on a path — but he is no romanticist. That's why when you say "man always
on a path" — this isn't necessarily a defining feature of Romanticism,
that's not what's most important in Romanticism.
When we talked about your heroes we called them wanderers, pilgrims.
And here is a question: for your hero, wanderer, pilgrim, is there any
chance to break through the threatening him chaos of events? Time is merciless
in your works, it turns everything into ruin: time and events harm and
annihilate the characters, everything material. Do you believe in permanence
of values such as faihtfulness, a sense of one's dignity, the right to
Hmm. It's difficult to call this a question, it's more like a multitude
of various problems you've listed. It's very difficult for me to answer
such a broadly formulated question. On the one hand you mention the merciless
time which annihilates the characters — and then you say: "and everything
material." That's not very clear to me. After all those characters are
not exclusively "material." Everything material undergoes destruction but
these characters are not only matter — first and foremost they are spirit.
That's why I always thought it important — to the extent human spirit
is indestructible — to show matter, which is subject to decay, destruction
— as opposed to spirit which is indestructible. You won't find it in
yet; although we obviously are dealing with destruction, annihilation there
but this is in a sense moral destruction, not opposition of the spiritual
against the physical. While in Stalker or even, say, already in Mirror
— we have for example this house which doesn't exist anymore and perhaps
a touch of the spirit of the place which remains forever. The mother, when
she goes outside — remember that? — always remains
the same. It was important
for me to show that this figure or soul of the mother was immortal. And
the rest undergoes decay; this is of course sad — as a soul feels sad sometimes
watching itself leaving the body. There is some nostalgic longing in it,
an astral sadness. It is also self-evident to me that this destruction
does not concern the characters, only objects. That's why it was important
to obtain this contrast — so as to present reality from the perspective
of transitoriness, if not for its having grown old,
outliving its time, and its existence at a particular time in general —
while man always remains the same, or more appropriately, does not remain
the same but develops, to infinity.
You talk about dignity. Obviously dignity is very important, most important.
And you talk about the path, the journey. If we are to talk about a journey,
also metaphorically, then one has to say that it is in fact unimportant
where one arrived, what's important is to embark upon a journey.
In Stalker, for example...
Always, under all circumstances. And in Stalker? Perhaps, I don't
know. But I wanted to say something else — that what is important is not
what one accomplished after all but that one entered the path to accomplish
it in the first place. Why doesn't it matter where he arrived? Because
the path is infinite. And the journey has no end. Because of that it is
of absolutely no consequence whether you are standing near the beginning
or near the end already — before you there is a journey that will never
end. And if you didn't enter the path — the most important thing is to
enter it. Here lies the problem. That's why for me what's important is
not so much the path but the moment at which a man enters it, enters any
In Stalker, for example, the Stalker himself is perhaps not so
important to me, much more important is the Writer who went to the Zone
as a cynic, just a pragmatist, and returned as a man who speaks of human
dignity, who realised he was not a good man. For the first time he even
faces this question, is man good or bad? And if he has already thought
of it — he thus enters the path... And when the Stalker says that all his
efforts were wasted, that nobody understood anything, that nobody needed
him — he is mistaken because the Writer understood everything. And because
of that the Stalker himself is not even so important.
Something else is interesting in this context. I wanted to make another
film, a sequel to Stalker in which... — This was possible only in
Russia, in the Soviet Union, it's impossible now because the Stalker and
his wife would have to be played by the same actors. Something else is
important here: that he changes, he doesn't believe anymore that people
could go to this happiness, towards the happiness of self-transformation,
an inner change. And he begins to change them by force, he begins to force
and kidnap them to the Zone by means of some swindles — in order to make
their lives better. He turns into a fascist. And here we have how an ideal
can — for purely ideological reasons — turn into its negation; when the
goal already justifies the means man changes. He leads three men to the
Zone by force — this is what I wanted to show in the second film — and
he does not shy away even from bloodshed in order to accomplish his goal.
This is already the idea of the Grand Inquisitor, those who take on themselves
sin in the name of, so to speak...
Salvation. This is what Dostoyevsky had been writing about all the time.
In Demons and in The Brothers Karamazov. In Demons
he even didn't write about that — there he in general negates the first
impulse, whatever it could be, even a most noble one... He negates even
Yes, that's Demons. But in The Brothers Karamazov he wrote
about socialism, exactly about all those people who take on themselves
the sin of violence in the name of happiness of the masses.
Or in the name of some ideas or other.
Or ideas. That's not important. In this sense what's much more important
for me is not the path itself — which is also important, of course — but
in general the topic of those who enter or do not enter the path, they
undertake a journey or they do not.
So all these aspects I'm listing here are naturally important to me. All
human traits are to me extremely important: dignity, freedom... Internal
freedom — since as you are aware political freedom and spiritual freedom
are two different concepts. When we speak of political freedom then in
fact we do not mean freedom — we mean rights. The right to live in a way
that's agreeable to our conscience, that we think of as necessary. The
right to serve society — as we ourselves understand this task. The right
to feel free. The rights. And some duties, naturally. One must have rights
regardless of anything else. But when we talk about freedom, we have in
mind... I don't know — if you want to be free you are always free. We know
that people even in prison can be free. One should also never link freedom
with progress, this absolutely cannot be done. Since the beginning of human
consciousness and individuality man could either be free or not free —
in the inner sense of the word. That's why when we talk about freedom we
shouldn't confuse the topics of rights and freedom, inner, spiritual freedom.
Here they don't understand anything of what I say on the subject. Not
too long ago I was at one such meeting and then they wrote in the newspapers:
it's very strange that Tarkovsky should talk about some spirituality. Of
course — for them it is strange, they simply have no idea, they don't understand
what I'm saying. They cannot comprehend that I'm talking about spirituality
in the sense that man ought to know why he lives, ought to think about
the meaning of his life. One who began thinking about that has been in
certain sense illuminated with some spiritual light, this question will
not be forgotten again, thrown away, he has embarked upon a path. However,
if he never asked himself this question, he is deprived of spirituality,
he lives pragmatically, like an animal. And he'll never understand anything.
They understand none of this. And when it is a journalist who writes that
— I am simply shocked. He is certainly thinking: since spirituality is
mentioned, this is certainly something about the Orthodox Church, about
some clericalism almost. For him there absolutely do not exist questions
of human soul or of a moral effort man should perform during his lifetime.
They seem slaves to freedom, slaves to progress.
Yes, yes, yes. For him the notion of freedom...
Is a value.
Clearly. And by the way, if I asked him what freedom was he'd never
give me an answer because he doesn't know. Because he doesn't know what
to do with it, with this freedom.
But I digress. The question wasn't stated this way. But this issue is
extremely important to me. I was never proposing the question of human
rights, this does not interest me. I'm interested in the problem of inner
This is indeed an absolutely fundamental problem. And now — with
your permission — a small provocation. What is your opinion — in this day and age
is an artist, director, a prophet, a Moses leading his people to the Promised
Land, or is he a Moralist (with a capital "M") fulfilling his mission,
or perhaps a craftsman selling his goods, or finally a "spiritual aristocrat"?
Don't you perhaps resent people's attachment to material things, to small
consumer pleasures? Wouldn't you rather see them wearing penitent's garb?
I think in order to limit somehow the breadth of these aspects it makes
sense to consider this question from a general and at the same time fundamental
perspective, i.e., I could sketch here artist's general function, his
role, place in society. Naturally my opinion is that before all else an
artist expresses ideas ripening within the society he lives in. In brief,
he appears a kind of medium, expressing ideas which society itself engenders.
But society cannot be an artist. An artist after all is an individual,
a personality; he is like a nation's personification precisely because
he turns out to be the nation's voice, its product. And it so happens sometimes
that the nation, people and the society, do not even accept this artist,
sometimes they chase him away, sometimes they do not understand, and they
comprehend him only many, many years later. But this isn't important, it
means only one thing: that they do not know themselves, they do not know
their own problems. And because of that an artist can never oppose his
own culture, his own people, by no means he can oppose it; even when he
expresses concepts containing ideas unacceptable to the contemporary society
it doesn't mean these ideas did not originate inside, within that society.
The society hadn't yet enough time to become aware of these problems and
the artist as a rule is not consciously aware of them either — he just
expresses them, he can feel them. Precisely because he expresses them.
Because he is not necessarily wiser beyond his times but he can sense more.
He frequently does not understand what he is saying. He repeats words after
the adults as a child, repeats without understanding and then the adults
say: "Oh my, what is he saying? Did you hear that? Go stand in the corner!
Get lost!" Or they give him a thrashing. And they beat him up for repeating
the words he heard at home. And he merely grew up in this environment.
In brief, I'd like to say this: an artist's role is to be a voice of his
people — not even "to be," one cannot "be," one cannot tell oneself to
"be" a nation's voice — one simply is.
Naturally, there is a problem here: if you are the people's voice
then say only what people demand of you. But here lies the problem, people
demand of you nothing. People demand nothing of nobody. It is the artist
who behaves as if something was demanded of him, expected of him. Naturally,
people do expect, but unconsciously. And exactly in the name of this duty
to the public, the people, the times he lives in, he ought to always remember
that he does not create for himself. But — although he does not create
for himself — he should express only what he feels intimate. Here it may turn
out that ideas close to your heart, some aspects of your creative work
are not needed by anybody. But in this case you have no right... here you
are powerless, you can at most just wait hundred years until it becomes
clear whether people needed you at all in the first place. This is something
one cannot confidently state in one's own time.
It is very difficult to be both useful to the society and at the same
time truthful, it is difficult to be convinced about usefulness of one's
work if nobody needs it. Nevertheless, there is but one path: to do what
seems proper. And time will tell. Because no one can judge one's efforts
at the time they are made. That's why I abhor attempts to moralise artists,
telling them what they should and what they should not do. Taking any
positions in art — leftist, rightist — this is all such nonsense as, as...
to be completely meaningless. An artist can be made your supporter in a
political sense only much la-a-a-a-ater, la-a-a-a-ater, when he is dead already,
when only his books or films are alive. And it can be like this: "See what
he was saying? — same thing we are saying." And later, say next year everything
changes and it turns out he was saying something completely different,
something that caught the attention of some second or third guy. In brief
— an artist has no right, that is not that he has no right, he has no instrument
which would make him any closer to his people's needs than he already is.
He can only believe that God will grant him the possibility of eventually
being needed by the nation. Whether he succeeds or not — this is something
he does not know and cannot know at this moment.
From this vantage point cinema is a very dangerous art because it is
expected to be immediately successful.
There is no time.
There is no time. Success has to come immediately. And that's why very
often a filmmaker's success does not mean at all that his inner world is,
so to speak, worthy of his times and his contemporaries, contemporary problems
— and of his people — let's put it this way.
Then we have a question...
Good. But I haven't answered yet any of the previous questions. So I'd
like to tell you one more thing regarding all this; of course, you say:
What does it mean: prophet? Let's say they frequently call Dostoyevsky
a prophet. Well, yes, but he could be called that.
He had this imperative. A prophetic imperative.
Yes, but Pushkin also had a prophetic imperative as he wrote about it
himself as you know — in Prophet, this magnificent poem that sinks
into the mind. But you are right, completely right. Of course: a prophet,
an artist is a prophet, and usually the kind of prophet which is not accepted
in his homeland. Well, let's take Pushkin for example. He was a poet, he
was popular in his small circle. And there weren't too many among his friends
— or not even his friends, his contemporaries — who would say "he is a
genius." He's only a poet, Pushkin. And nobody spoke of him like us today
when we speak of this genius of ours. When Chopin composed his etudes he
was simply a musician. But today we hear: that's the soul of the nation,
that's a unique phenomenon — considering its poetry and the subtlety of
its spiritual structure — he has no equals whatsoever in European culture,
that's an astonishing phenomenon. You understand? And when he was alive...
they were just a group of friends, George Sand and everybody else, etc.
Life, just life itself.
Just life itself, somehow more elegant but most of the time frightening,
difficult. That's why, well... Or let's say Dostoyevsky. In the beginning
Dostoyevsky was elevated to the top by this... Bielinsky who would later
attack him. The terrible Bielinsky — from my point of view.
In brief, no one is ever able to predict this or that poet's stature
in the future. Of course if he is a prophet, the voice of his people, if
he possesses an inner spiritual instinct, if he personifies his people's
spirtual summit, his nation's soul — then obviously he cannot be anything
else but a prophet. He definitely should be one.
What is prophet? Prophet is a work, a creation of people. It means the
artist is himself a result, he is created by people in the same way works
of art are created. As God created the nation, the nation creates the artist,
and he creates his works. Perhaps you know this excellent short novel by
Borges about God and Shakespeare...
Everything and Nothing, I believe.
Perhaps, I forget the title. At any rate, God there tells Shakespeare
that he was created by God in the same way Shakespeare himself created
his works. All works are permeated with the same spiritual force. So we
cannot negate the reality of prophetic mission resting on artist's
shoulders, by no means. But how can one thump one's chest and proclaim
to all concerned "I am a prophet"? We know there were such artists. And
others kept silent — or simply created. Pushkin never said he was a genius
and a prophet. He wrote a poem titled Prophet but he himself...
But now we hadn't in mind any social function of an artist. We meant
the imperative. The characters in your films...
I'm not talking about social function. I'm talking about his striving
for the ideal because without the ideal an artist cannot exist. And the
ideal as we know is unreachable. That's why an artist is a useless entity
in a practical sense, he constantly worries about the ideal and the ideal
is not a concrete thing, it cannot be utilised in any way. And this in
my opinion is the drama of the contemporary society which demands practical
applications of the artist. And when you try to use him this way then you
break and destroy him like a toy. And nothing is left of him — here, that's
what happened to Mayakovsky.
Because he was a "voice."
Because he was a voice whose tone they wanted to guide by force. Those
who were presenting him with "society's demands," they "knew well" what
people's voice ought to sound like. Thus they were taking away something
holiest in any artist: honesty and listening to this voice himself. And
those who directed him would say: "we know what this voice ought to be
and you don't." They were depriving the artist of his function, they were
appropriating, destroying him.
And it is in this sense when we talk about the imperative — you talk
about "spiritual aristocracy." Let's settle first — what kind of aristocracy
we have in mind. Aristocracy, spiritual condition, the artist's condition...
What is art? What is masterpiece? What is its meaning and condition? What
does a work of art express when it is a masterpiece? It expresses a certain
greatness of human spirit. It expresses the ideal this spirit is striving
for. We have already mentioned that this is a reflection of hidden expectations
and desires of the people. And if this is so then we are talking about
a kind of summit, a peak. And when we are talking about summits and peaks,
we also question accessibility, attainability of this ideal expressed through
the work of art. We are thus talking about characteristic uniqueness of
this phenomenon — yes or no?
We talk of a certain greatness. And one can talk about greatness only
when the phenomenon is surrounded by vacuum. We can talk about snow-covered
peaks only if there are precipices and valleys, isn't this so?
One moment. So these are differences between peaks and valleys. If this
is so and if a peak symbolises an internal elevation of the soul preserved
in the work of art, it means this unique phenomenon came into being in
order to attract, beckon, invite somewhere, call, enable one's spiritual
development. And if this is so, if it's necessary to call in order to make
someone develop spiritually, it means he is still far away at a relatively
low stage of spiritual development. As opposed to the work of art, the
masterpiece, which is at the summit, as opposed to the author who is at
the summit as he reflects everything in his people's potential.
Yes. What does it mean? It means those masterpieces, their function
which we've defined already, appear as an ideal one ought to strive for
— which in turn already implies certain aristocracy, exceptionality, elevating
oneself spiritually high above everything that's low, soulless, and miserable.
There exists the spirit of the people which soars above the multitude,
above the blackness. Pushkin distinguished blackness from the folk. We
know this very well. He wrote about the blackness, by the way, including
in it aristocrats and courtiers. At that time in
Boris Godunov he
wrote about the folk — the folk is silent...
— ascribing to it some
particular sense, clairvoyance enabling it to penetrate into the mysteries
of history. He endowed it with traits of spirituality, of higher inner
wisdom. In brief — when we speak of spiritual aristocracy, art is like
a hilly landscape spreading over the lowlands, art is of itself aristocratic.
But aristocratic not in any sociological or historical sense but in the
spiritual meaning of the word. Art wouldn't exist if it were otherwise
— if it weren't an expression of striving for a higher spiritual level.
I get the impression — perhaps I am wrong — that whenever you talk
about Western audiences the tone of your remarks turns very critical.
It is not so much critical... This is criticising not so much Western
audiences but the situation this audience finds itself in, the state of
culture in the West. For example, for Russians, even now, culture and works
of art have always carried certain spiritual, mystic, or — if you prefer
— prophetic significance. A similar understanding of culture has to a very
large extent also developed in Poland. Here, in the West, culture has long
ago become an object of consumption, a consumer property. What does culture
mean for them? Culture is what I can have. As a result of my being free.
And what does it mean free? — I am free to have what everyone here has.
Does culture exist in the West? It does. Thus I can and I have the right
to use it. And what does it mean: I can? Well, just — physically, pragmatically
— I can. It won't even occur to him to pause and think: yes you can but
are you able to digest it? Let's take Goethe for example — you read Faust
— but have you been able to read it? You can, obviously you
can, please go buy yourself Faust. Only you'll never buy Goethe's
Faust. You'll go to the pictures where you'd rather watch a Spielberg
film; and if you go to a bookshop, you'll buy a comic or some bestseller
or other which one ought to buy. That's all. You won't buy Thomas
Mann, you won't buy Hesse, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky. See, this is it: you
can buy everything. Yet in order to absorb culture one has to make
an effort equal to artist's own when he was creating his work. And
this won't even occur to such consumer. He thinks: I can go and buy; all
I have to do is pay. This is where the lack of spirituality leads. It won't
occur to him that art is aristocratic — in the spiritual sense of the word,
I repeat, God forbid I should use it in any other sense.
They say: élitist art. What does it mean élitist? Art
always expects everyone should be able to understand, to comprehend it.
It awaits this moment. Every work of art is created for this purpose. Yet
they say: élitist because it is not immediately understandable.
And what does it mean not understandable? Art cannot be... Goethe said
that to read a good book is as difficult as to write one. This means in
order to understand the author's aim one must perform certain spiritual
work. I repeat: a creative artist is not someone who opposes his people,
he is an individual who serves them.
If you allow us to use your phrase — can one say that this audience
has not yet started on the path leading to your films, that it still has
this journey before them?
It is very difficult for me to see whether it's true or not since I
don't closely follow audience reactions to my films. I know only one thing:
that my films were finding their audience in the Soviet Union with great
difficulty. With each film the audiences grew and finally for the last
two films it was simply impossible to get the tickets. Those films were
withdrawn from distribution as soon as the management of Goskino USSR realised
my films were popular. They were withdrawn immediately. First they released
them hoping they flop. When they did not, they were withdrawn.
Were all your films treated this way?
Now I'm referring to the last two: Mirror and Stalker.
This is how it was planned. This was a difficult path because there was
only one thing I could do: be honest and speak with my own voice about
things that were close to me and which I hoped would also be seen as such
by the audience. In the beginning this sort of repelled the viewers, then
their numbers gradually increased.
It's very strange: when I was leaving — unfortunately — the Soviet Union,
my audience consisted of very young people, 16–17 years old — and they
understood me. They simply understood my cinema. What does it mean:
understood? It means they accepted it, it was in some sense their
world. I was very happy about that. But as a rule people my own age did
not find themselves emotionally close to these films, not as much as young
people. This is very strange, I am not going to try to explain it.
The same process took place in the West. In London for example they
had I think five, several anyway, of my film retrospectives. And for the
last one, not too long ago, a month or so, the queues were colossal.
What is it? Do they understand — or do they not understand? I cannot tell
exactly. Or here in Stockholm the queues were also enormous, many people
came to see my films, even now a retrospective is taking place.
I don't know. I'm in general glad to see my films in distribution but
there is a great danger in becoming... well, that everybody will be watching
these films. Briefly, from what we were discussing earlier it follows that
it's very dangerous to become a director with a huge success at the box
office. Very dangerous. I don't think there is anything of importance in
what one is trying to convey in this case. That one has then truly arrived
at a spiritual summit, progressing through stages of inner development
while inviting the audience to follow. Precisely the opposite
— the artist himself is slipping down to a lower level. There is no doubt
Naturally, in order for cinema to exist a director has to attain popularity
and this is exactly cinema's tragedy, the fact that it was born at a fair,
in sin, at a marketplace. They had a contraption there, you'd look inside
and you could see some girl undressing, you'd put a coin and something
else would be happening. And this is the tragedy — because cinema hasn't
changed one bit since then. One has to make money in order to make more films.
It's completely different with other arts. One can write a book sitting
at home — like Kafka who wrote but published nothing. But the book has
In brief: the question of relation towards the viewer and of popularity
in general is very complex. And very frequently it depends not upon problems
and tasks the artist imposes on himself but upon the tasks the producers,
the money, impose on the artist. Perhaps sometime in the future when the
technology reaches the level where cinema won't cost anything, we'll be
putting a metal helmet on our heads and record all our fantasies and images
like an encephalogram and then editing them into a film. This will be cheap.
But you'd have to live for a long time to see this happen, to talk about
this kind of cheap technology. For the time being it is very expensive.
Has Polish art and Polish cinema influenced your work in any way?
Influenced? Of course, when I was studying at the VGIK Polish cinema
experienced an extraordinary rise, it was a period of blossoming linked
with names like the young Wajda, Andrzej Munk, and others.
The Polish School.
The Polish School. It was known around the world and it could not but
influence us as well. Particularly impressive was the photography, the
cinematic manner of perception of the world as it was shown by e.g. Wójcik,
the cameraman who worked with Wajda and also with Munk, I think.
and Diamonds was for us a revelation, for many of us. All this was
very influential and very inspiring. Especially the relation to truthfulness
in life expressed in those films, poetisation arising from photography
based on naturalism. This was at that time incredibly important because
until then cinema was quite untruthful, cardboard-like, fake. Both in its
external layer and in itself. In films of the Polish School the fabric
itself was remarkable already, Polish filmmakers understood they were dealing
with fabric of a particular kind and were not destroying it. Earlier cinema
had not differentiated the fabric of the image, it was all taped over with
veneer, wallpaper, some drapery, well, you know — papier-mâché,
and naturally shot in the studio. And they suddenly turned to pure nature,
mud, dilapidated walls, to actors' faces with the make-up removed. Some
completely different feeling was penetrating the image, a different rhythm
— and this was very important for us then.
Speaking of connections with Polish culture, could you tell us why
you based one of your films on Stanislaw Lem's Solaris? What attracted
you to that novel?
I think very highly of Stanislaw Lem and I like his works very much.
I read them whenever I can, everything I can, I read and I like his prose
but it so happens that — and I'm sorry to say this — he does not like too
much, does not understand, what cinema is. That's why during our time working
together we were unequal partners. I loved his books beyond all measure
while he was entirely indifferent towards my films. In brief, he would
always think that he as a writer... that literature existed.
That literature was most important.
I don't know. Not most important — but that it existed — as a fact.
As does music, poetry, painting. But he could not comprehend cinema and
he still does not to this day. He doesn't know what it is. There are many
people like that, even very intelligent ones, who thoroughly know literature,
poetry, music but they do not consider cinema an art. Either they think
cinema hasn't been born yet or they do not feel it, they cannot see the
trees in the forest — in the sense they cannot distinguish between true
and commercial cinema. And apparently Lem does not seriously treat cinema
as art. That's why he believed we should have followed his novel in the
screenplay, should have simply illustrated it. This I could not do. In
this case he should have approached not me but a director who was an "illustrator."
They make those "living paintings."
Yes, we all know the type.
Only they create dead paintings most of the time.
There are directors like this, those who follow the writer scrupulously
illustrating his work. There are many pictures of this type and they usually
all look alike. Because it's a mere illustration everything is dead there,
it has no life, in and of itself it has no artistic value. It's a mere
reflection, something secondary to the literary original. And this is what
Lem was expecting. If indeed he was expecting this. It is something I cannot
understand. It's very strange to presume he had this kind of expectation
but it's precisely his attitude towards film art that put him in the position
of a man expecting exactly this result, an illustration — although he perhaps
didn't want it at all. But he would invariably oppose any divergence between
our screenplay and the exact narrative of the novel. He would become indignant
whenever we invented a new thread.
At that time we had a screenplay variant which I was very fond of. In
it almost all action took place on Earth, more than half of it, i.e., this
whole prehistory with Harey, why she "came into existence" over there on
Solaris. It was reminiscent of Crime and Punishment and was of course
completely at odds with Lem's original idea because I was interested in
issues of inner life, spiritual issues so to speak, and he was interested
in the collision between man and Cosmos, the Unknown with a capital "U".
This is what interested him. In some ontological sense of the word, in
the sense of the problem of cognizance and the limits of this cognizance
— it's about that. He was even saying that humanity was in danger, that
there was a crisis of cognizance when man does not feel... This crisis
is on the increase, it snowballs, it takes shape of various human tragedies,
also tragedies scientists experience.
And then it all ripens into a kind of explosion, a jump forward, everything
marches towards the future, etc. etc. Explosion — that's very good, I don't
deny it, but I'm not interested in this at all. And this novel attracted
me only because for the first time I encountered a work about which I could
say: atonement, this is a story of atonement. What is atonement? — Remorse.
In a straightforward classical sense of the word — when our memory of past
wrongdoings, sins, turns into reality. For me this was the reason I made
such a film.
On the other hand if we are to talk about this issue of encounter with
the Unkown — then again the ontological aspect of it was not important
to me, it was instead recreation of a man's psychological situation, to
show what is happening to his soul. And if the man remains human — to me
that's the most precious thing. It's no accident the hero of my film is
a psychologist, the hero of Lem's novel is a psychologist as well. He is
an ordinary city dweller, a philistine, he looks just so, ordinarily. For
me it was important that he would be just like that. He should be a man
of a rather limited spiritual range, average — just in order to be able to
experience this spiritual battle, fear, not like an animal which is in
pain and does not comprehend what is happening to it. What was important
to me was precisely that human being unconsciously forces himself to be
human, unconsciously and as far as his spiritual abilities would allow
he opposes the brutality, he opposes all that is inhuman while he remains
human. And it turns out that despite him being — so it would seem — a thoroughly
average guy, he stands at a high level spiritually. It's as if he convicted
himself, he went right inside this problem and he saw himself in a mirror.
And it turned out he was a spiritually rich man — despite his apparent
intellectual limitations we had seen earlier. When he talks to his father
he is a plain bore, in his conversation with Berton he speaks in banal
trivialities about knowledge, morality, he tells some banal stories; as
soon as he begins to form his thoughts he becomes banal. But as soon as
he begins to feel something or suffer — he becomes a human being. And this
was leaving Lem completely unmoved. Totally unmoved. And I was deeply moved
by this. And when the film received a prize in Cannes and someone was congratulating
him, he asked: "And what have I got to do with this?" He asked this question
with resentment — but one could look at it differently and ask: "Indeed,
what has he got to do with it?" If he treated cinema as art he would understand
that film, a screen adaptation, always arises on the work's ruins so to
speak. As a completely new phenomenon. But he didn't see it that way.
But I am infinitely grateful to him for those days we spent together
and talked... He is an extremely interesting man, very pleasant. So if
I feel a bit bitter it is not because he treated me and my film that way
— it is because he treated cinema this way in general.
By the way, I'd like to ask you to convey to him my best wishes, my
regards and heartfelt gratitude. I shall always remember with gratitude
the time we spent working together. What I said earlier, however, had to
be said at least for objectivity's sake.
These are two different issues.
Yes. Here we are touching upon an issue which has always presented me
with a certain problem. Well, here is what happened once: I meet someone,
he is a very intelligent man, well-read, knows about poetry, painting,
music, etc. An intelligent man. And he says that he loved my new film,
he thought it was great, something like: "Oh, I'm so glad, thank you, thank
you." I start talking to him and I realise that he hasn't understood a
thing. And this is terrible. This is terrible. This is the reverse of what
I was just talking about. It's somewhat similar — the guy says "yes, yes,
cinema, I understand" — but in fact he does not understand cinema and does
not know what it is, how to treat it, what can be expected from it — what
shouldn't be expected from it, and what should.
What's it all about? While he feels completely at ease, like a fish
in water regarding poetry, painting, literature, music, he is a total dilettante
regarding cinema, completely unprepared for discussion or conversation
about it — although he is ready! This is very strange. For me this was
in general much more painful than someone saying "Well, I don't understand
your film and in my opinion this is all drivel, dumb pretentious drivel;
I just cannot understand how government money can be spent on films like
this." I received this kind of letters as well. During the Rublov
someone wrote straight to the KGB with nothing less than "Tarkovsky must
be brought back in line so he does not use government funds to create films
against the Tatar nation."
Would you believe it? I was simply... "During the war Tatars together
with their Russian brothers were shedding blood for their common ideals while
Tarkovsky makes an anti-Tatar film." You understand? "Tarkovsky should
not be allowed to make anything else if he is to make anti-Tatar films."
There is more to it. These people as it turns out do not even know their
own history and certainly they do not even know that they, these Tatars,
are completely different people than those Tatar-Mongols shown in Rublov.
Two completely different issues; they don't even know their own history.
Once I was in Kazan and I told the same story there, I read the letter
and said: you talk about your national Tatar dignity but you don't know
— those of you who say that — you have no idea who you are, you do not
remember who your forefathers are, you mix yourselves up with other nations.
Yes. So I received many different letters, sometimes insulting ones.
You do not even feel upset receiving letters like these because as a rule they are
downright illiterate. But when you suddenly run into someone,
well let's say someone used to having opinions about cultural trends, and
when he suddenly begins to talk nonsense about something you've done —
showing his lack of understanding — this is even more painful.
I don't know whether you agree with me or not but if we read a book
for example, any work of literature, then there are as many books as there
are readers. Every reader sees the image he created himself, an image built
on the basis of his own experience — the more so that literature is descriptive
and film demonstrative. But cinema also allows for one's own vision and
this I consider most precious. If this is possible in literature why must
we fight it in cinema? And vice-versa — to consider only what applies generally,
characterises everything, what is universally accepted? I cannot understand
this at all, I consider it discrimination. I believe a work of art is created
by the audience, viewers, readers. Art would not be art if it disallowed
a possibility of individual perception. Of course one must be prepared
for it to a certain extent. But what's most important is not so much preparation,
education, but spiritual level. This is a reception. Not so much
but reception. And if you
receive then you'll understand,
the time will come when you'll understand.
So if works of literature can show and interpret situations in ways
specific to their nature, why shouldn't other works, cinematic say, be
allowed to do this in their own way? Right? I think they should.
The last question we'd like to ask you — you live as an émigré.
Life of a Russian émigré artist can be symbolised, we think,
by three names: Bunin, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn. These are three variants,
three types of living as an emigrant. To which of these ways of life do
you feel closest?
I could not feel close to anybody's way of life. I could feel someone's
personality as being close to mine.
Yes, but these three names are three ways of living as an émigré.
Of course. Bunin, without a doubt. Without a doubt. I feel closer to
him because I also feel closer to his works. I consider him a great writer.
But he lives in the past, he locks himself up in it. He recollects,
He recollects. What does it mean: recollects? Solzhenitsyn recollects
as well. And Nabokov also recollects. Excuse me, everybody recollects.
The ideal of art is after all based on recollections.
We have in mind a model of émigré biography. Being
an émigré one can lock oneself up exclusively in recollections
of the past — like Bunin, or assimilate within a different culture, different
language — like Nabokov, or live more the problems of one's own nation
rather than those of one's new environment — like Solzhenitsyn.
Russians could never be emigrants...
Besides, keep in mind that Nabokov left Russia when he was a child,
and Bunin left, was forced to leave, as an adult, as a mature human being,
and Solzhenitsyn was not only an adult and a writer but also a writer who
had lived through things neither of the two had ever dreamt about.
These are completely incomparable lives. But if you say: model — then we
are closer although I don't know how much closer. Nabokov does not fit
here at all because he left as a child, this was completely different.
The only ones left are Solzhenitsyn and Bunin. To be sure, I haven't experienced
what Solzhenitsyn experienced and Bunin — of course I haven't experienced
what Bunin experienced either. Bunin as you noticed — for him life ended
still before the revolution; everything for him fell apart much before
the revolution. Life he is describing is shown as a retrospection, a life
that is gone.
That's what I had in mind when I said he locked himself up in the
Yes, that's why he was in so much pain. I love Bunin as a writer. I
understand his pain and what's more — I understand his character. He was
a very acrimonious man, very blunt, not always just, judging others exceptionally
subjectively — he was not a very good man, let's put it this way. But I
don't know, was Nabokov a good man? And is Solzhenitsyn good? I don't know
So when you speak about a model of émigré life then Bunin
is in some sense clearly closer to Solzhenitsyn — in the sense that he
lived like a hermit, he could neither adapt nor open up to the new life.
While Nabokov wrote both in English and in Russian — but this again follows
from his having left the country at an early age. Bunin represented a very
bad type of émigré. For example, no matter how much pain
Solzhenitsyn may feel because of his emigration, he will be able to somehow
occupy his mind with important matters, problems. And Bunin — I think —
would constantly relive his pain which embittered him, he couldn't suppress
it within himself, he was not as strong as Solzhenitsyn in a sense. Somehow
he was very... He was also like a child. In those days frequently not a
As children can be sometimes.
Yes. As it is always with children. His character was difficult in general.
But whose character is easy? Nabokov's? No. Perhaps Solzhenitsyn's? Not
If you ask about me I cannot give you any answer because I'm completely
unable to judge myself. I would judge erroneously if I attempted to do
Bunin would do the same thing.
Bunin would give the same answer to our question.
You think so?
Yes. I think everybody acts this way thinking it is good.
What is good?
That it is good to act this way.
But I could never say about myself that what I do was good. Firstly,
I don't believe I do everything well; what's more, a good deal of what
I do I do badly. Yes — but that's already another story.
Thus I feel much closer to Tolstoy as a character. As a type of artist —
closer than, say, Dostoyevsky or anybody else. As a type, as a model.
For me the most Russian phenomenon, the most important and closest to
me — in the spiritual sense — is the problem, well, let's call it the St.
Anthony complex. It's a conflict between spirit and matter. That's the
Hamlet problem. Hamlet as we know is Shakespeare's creation, certainly
not Dostoyevsky's — one therefore cannot say this is a Russian discovery.
And St. Anthony as we know isn't a Russian character either. However, this
complex is for me the most important issue. It's the conflict between spirit
and matter. It's the battle God is fighting against the devil within man.
This is most important. And Tolstoy simply felt it, he suffered because
of that. He would forever moralise, he posed directly the question: What
is art? And he decided that nobody needed all this anyway. A bourgeois
superstition. He was a big leftist already in those days. He negated his
own creative work, began to write primers etc. etc. He also wanted to farm.
A conflict. A conflict between the ideal and that which is possible, which
is realistically possible.
I think we should begin to wrap it up. We've taken so much of your
time. We thank you very much for this conversation.
You are welcome.
We wish you a happy return to your homeland — yours and your
When are you going back to Poland? [Tarkovsky directs this question
to me —J.I.]
In about a month.
And you came here doing what? As a reporter?
No, privately. I am visiting friends.
Well, God be with you both, and if you are at all able, do not leave
I have no intent to leave.
Emigration is a heavy burden. Someone came here from Russia, a friend
of mine, doesn't matter who... "Well, yes? I don't know. What? How? To
leave — not to leave? What to do? How to live?" — Try not to leave. Do
everything you can not to leave. One should not do that.
One should not leave the motherland. Neither Poles nor Russians, Slavs
in general. Where else will they find their Slavic roots? Of course Poland
is a country belonging to the West, no doubt. But even her roots extend
far into the East — not because Russia belongs to the East and in general
not because of Russia but because the general pull is directed to a larger
measure somewhere towards the East. I have a confession to make that for
me some Thailand, Nepal, or Tibet, or even China — they are spiritually
inspired lands, much closer to me spiritually than France or Germany. Despite
everything. Although I know all this, I understand it and I like it, and
after all one was brought up after a western fashion; Russian culture in
general is a western culture today. But that spirit, that mysticism which
ties us precisely with the East — this is very close to us. Even though
Poland is a Catholic country. And Catholicism in Poland, by the way, is
strange, it differs from the Italian one for example, they have nothing
in common — although it would seem we have common pope. Yes, this is
all very interesting... Of course Poland was always in this position between
two worlds, and Russia was always harassing Poland, and Russians remember
it very well and know about it.
What can one say...