Review of the documentary film about Andrei Tarkovsky “Travel Time”

Review of the documentary film about Andrei Tarkovsky “Travel Time”


On the occasion of Andrei Tarkovsky’s birthday, Travel Time is being released in Russia, a documentary film about the preparation for the filming of Nostalgia, filmed back in 1982. I saw him with today’s eyes Andrey Plakhov.

In the credits, the directors of the film are Tonino Guerra and Tarkovsky himself. The Italian playwright, who worked with Fellini and Antonioni, took on the script for Nostalgia and began by helping the Russian guest find the right location for filming. He takes him in search of nature to the south, to Baroque Lecce, then to the fabulous Amalfi Coast, but all these beauties seem too touristy to Tarkovsky.

In Nostalgia, the hero of Oleg Yankovsky will behave in a similar way. Translator Eugenia, a beauty as if from a Renaissance portrait, brings Andrei Gorchakov to the monastery of the Tuscan town of Monterchi to admire the magical “Madonna del Parto” by Piero della Francesca. But the guest capriciously refuses to go inside, grumbling: “I’m tired of your beauty worse than a bitter radish.”

It is often said that, due to the interweaving of a number of circumstances, having left Russia, Tarkovsky terribly missed her, almost fell ill from this and died not only from a cruel illness, but above all from separation from his homeland. And that the director expressed all these feelings in the patriotic film “Nostalgia”, the hero of which also dies in a foreign land, predicting the fate of Tarkovsky. And long before him, two centuries ago, another Russian talent, the serf musician Pavel Sosnovsky (prototype – composer Maxim Berezovsky), fell ill with nostalgia: he was sent by his owner to Italy, but could not stand this test, returned to his homeland, drank himself there and ended his life yourself. It is about Sosnovsky that Gorchakov writes a book on an Italian business trip, but he never writes it – and partly repeats the fate of his hero.

Something is wrong with this Italy: on the one hand, it attracts Russians like a magnet. On the other hand, it causes anger and rejection. How many of these “artists on a business trip” have I seen (these could be directors, actors, writers, journalists) who dream of going on a trip abroad, but once there, they lock themselves in a hotel room, drink bitters, or find fellow countrymen and drinking buddies with whom they can talk enough about the fate of the homeland. They feel good where they are not. At home they suffer by definition, and behind the cordon they suffer even more: today we see enough fresh examples of this. By the way, no one is stopping Gorchakov from returning home, but he prefers to hang around in Italy.

It must be admitted that Tarkovsky showed his hero (in his narcissistic manners, in many ways reminiscent of the director himself) not without irony and even bile. All the more ridiculous are the revelations by current activists of the revision of Russian culture – through the optics of the fight against empire, and at the same time with male chauvinism: both are easily (sometimes not without reason) attributed to Tarkovsky. In this optics, Gorchakov is perceived as the embodiment of pretension, egoism and conceit, as a mirror of dubious Russian spirituality. And the words of the translator addressed to him, “You talk about freedom all the time, but you don’t know what freedom is,” are like the voice of truth. Of course, how do Russians know about freedom? Tarkovsky didn’t know about it (in the sense that the translator talks about). But he knew something else, and so did his hero.

Gorchakov understands the self-immolating foolish prophet Domenico, who was obsessed with fear and despair, with a premonition of the “end of the world.” And he follows Domenico’s stupid idea from a philistine point of view – to carry a lighted candle across the pool in Bagno Vignoni: this point of the “journey” will be his last. The absurd action is dictated by a feeling of powerlessness: art cannot change a dying world. The only way to resolve this contradiction is to sacrifice yourself. This is what the hero, and behind him the author of Nostalgia, actually do. The most important thing in “Time of Travel” is Tarkovsky’s words that cinema for him is not a profession, that it is inseparable from the way of life and ultimately absorbs and takes with it the very life of the author-filmmaker.

What about nostalgia? It hasn’t gone away, but the problem for Tarkovsky is not it as such. Homesickness is “a long-debunked problem.” Leaving Russia was only part of the puzzle of fate for the director. A very important part, of course. What he really suffered from, and this is clearly visible from his detailed diaries, was separation from his son: the Soviet bosses, masters of psychological torture, did not let him leave the country to join his father for a long time.

Tarkovsky was tormented and attracted by the image of a home, the embodiment of which was the house acquired by his family in the village of Myasnoye in the Ryazan region. Tarkovsky carries the image of a rustic Russian dwelling with him to both Solaris and Tuscany, mounting it in a symbolic frame with ancient Roman Christian ruins. This is the peculiarity of Tarkovsky’s “nostalgia”: he loves both Russia and Italy, but neither one nor the other separately is capable of satisfying his longing for the ideal.

Today, both the fears of nuclear war and the dramas of emigration are being reproduced on an enlarged scale in the 21st century. And the film by Guerra and Tarkovsky turns into a journey through time – to the era when world space was divided by the Iron Curtain. Now it is about to be lowered again, but space plays a rather subordinate role in this process. And the main thing is the time, which, compared to when Tarkovsky traveled through Italy, has sharply changed its quality and its composition.


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