Andrei Tarkovsky is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time.
His films explore spiritual and metaphysical themes and are noted for their slow pacing, long takes and mysterious dreamlike visual imagery (he famously described filmmaking as “sculpting in time”).
The Russian director was the recipient of a number of awards at the Cannes Film Festival through his career and he won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival for his debut film Ivan’s Childhood.
Three of his films – Andrei Rublev, Mirror, and Stalker – finished in the top 30 in Sight & Sound’s poll of the 100 greatest films of all time as voted by critics and directors.
The great Ingmar Bergman once said: “Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn’t explain. What should he explain anyhow?”
In this article, we’ve listed our 30 favorite filmmaking quotes from the visionary director.
Andrei Tarkovsky Quotes on Cinema
In world cinema there have been many attempts to create a new concept in film, always with the general aim of bringing it closer to life, to factual truth. Hence pictures like Cassavetes’ Shadows, Shirley Clarke’s The Connection, Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer. These notable films are marked, apart from anything else, by a lack of commitment; complete and unconditional factual truth is not consistently pursued.
There is one film that could not be further removed from the principle of direct observation, and that is Eisenstein’s Ivan’s The Terrible. Not only is the whole film a kind of hieroglyphic, it consists of a series of hieroglyphics – major, minor and minute. There is not a single detail that is not permeated with the author’s intent.
What can one say, for instance, about the way Antonioni works with his actors in L’Avventura? Or Orson Welles in Citizen Kane? All we are aware of is the unique conviction of the character. But this is a qualitatively different, screen conviction, the principles of which are not those that make acting expressive in a theatrical sense.
I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman.
Cinema is an unhappy art as it depends on the money. Not only because a film is very expensive but is then also marketed like cigarettes, etc.
Tarkovsky on Directing
Cinema should capture life in the forms in which it exists and use images of life itself. It is the most realistic art form in terms of form. The form in which the cinematic shot exists should be a reflection of the forms of real life. The director has only to choose the moments he will capture and to construct a whole out of them.
The director’s task is to recreate life, its movement, its contradictions, its dynamic and conflicts. It is his duty to reveal every iota of the truth he has seen, even if not everyone finds that truth acceptable. Of course an artist can lose his way, but even his mistakes are interesting provided they are sincere. For they represent the reality of his inner life, of the peregrinations and struggle into which the external world has thrown him.
A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he’s worth something. And if I know for sure that I’m a genius? Why write then? What the hell for?
My purpose is to make films that will help people to live, even if they sometimes cause unhappiness.
What can it mean to them when they have not shared with the author the misery and joy of bringing an image into being?
Substitution… the infinite cannot be made into matter, but it is possible to create an illusion of the infinite: the image.
Movement is made more meaningful in the context of stillness.
Never try to convey your idea to the audience – it is a thankless and senseless task. Show them life, and they’ll find within themselves the means to assess and appreciate it.
What is art? (…) Like a declaration of love: the consciousness of our dependence on each other. A confession. An unconscious act that none the less reflects the true meaning of life – love and sacrifice.
All art, of course, is intellectual, but for me, all the arts, and cinema even more so, must above all be emotional and act upon the heart.
It is obvious that art cannot teach anyone anything, since in four thousand years humanity has learnt nothing at all. We should long ago have become angels had we been capable of paying attention to the experience of art, and allowing ourselves to be changed in accordance with the ideals it expresses. Art only has the capacity, through shock and catharsis, to make the human soul receptive to good. It’s ridiculous to imagine that people can be taught to be good… Art can only give food – a jolt – the occasion – for psychical experience.
… art must must carry man’s craving for the ideal, must be an expression of his reaching out towards it; that art must give man hope and faith. And the more hopeless the world in the artist’s version, the more clearly perhaps must we see the ideal that stands in opposition – otherwise life becomes impossible! Art symbolises the meaning of our existence.
Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.
A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books.
The poet has nothing to be proud of. He is not master of the situation, but a servant. Creative work is his only possible form of existence, and his every work is like a deed he has no power to annul. For him to be aware that the sequence of such deeds is due and ripe, that it lies in the very nature of things, he has to have faith in the idea; for only faith interlocks the system of images for which read system of life.
Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality.
We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image – as opposed to a symbol – is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it’s a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.
Tarkovsky on his Work
The film [Stalker] needs to be slower and duller at the start so that the viewers who walked into the wrong theater have time to leave before the main action starts.
The completion of Ivan’s Childhood marked the end of one cycle of my life, and of a process that I saw as a kind of self-determination. It was made up of study at the Institute of Cinematography, work on a short film for my diploma, and then eight months’ work on my first feature film. I could now assess the experience of Ivan’s Childhood, accept the need to work out clearly, albeit temporarily, my own position in the aesthetics of cinema, and set myself problems which might be solved in the course of making my next film: in all of this I saw a pledge of my advance onto new ground. The work could all have been done in my head.
Of course people don’t learn from experience; today’s directors constantly use styles of performance that belong patently to the past. Even Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent is marred for me by her determination to be expressive and significant: the result is that her ‘parable’ has meaning only on one level. As so often happens, her effort to ‘stir’ the audience makes for an exaggerated emphasis on her characters’ emotions. It is as if she were afraid of not being understood, and had made her characters walk on invisible buskins. Even the lighting is calculated to instill the performances with meaning. Unfortunately the effect is stilted and false. In order to oblige the audience to sympathize with the characters, the actors have been made to demonstrate their suffering. Everything is more painful, more tortured, than in real life – even the torment and the pain; and above all, more portentous.
An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world. This is the issue in Andrey Rublyov (1966)
Recommended Tarkovsky Books
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