Ian Christie offers a new perspective on Tarkovsky

Ian Christie will be challenging perceptions of the great Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky 30 years after his death.

Wednesday, 24th August 2016, 9:14 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 2:39 am

The Chichester International Film Festival at the New Park Cinema will be offering a Tarkovsky retrospective during which Ian will give a talk on the man and his work (Saturday, August 27, 4pm).

“I defer to no one in my admiration of the man, but I do think we must take him off a pedestal and have a more rounded view of him.

“I have been involved in Tarkovsky’s work for a long time really in different ways. I interviewed him on his first-ever visit out of the Soviet Union in the early 80s. It was a strange encounter. He was suddenly told that he could travel abroad, and he arrived in London with his minder whom we assumed to be a KGB minder, and he was a bit like a frightened rabbit. He was very self-contained. It was a public event at the National Film Theatre, and people queued around the theatre. The thought of actually seeing him in the flesh was very exciting. People jumped at the chance.

“Really my job was to try to put him at ease and not to ask him difficult questions with somebody in the front row listening to his answers. I tried just to say ‘Tell us what the film process is like for you, how does it go?’ rather than asking him questions about censorship that he would not be able to answer. And he gave me very straight answers, that he had had a lot of opportunities and a lot of support.

“People build up this image of him as beleaguered, censored and muzzled, but in fact he was working in an era where there were incredible privileges and freedoms for film-makers in Russia. He didn’t have to worry about finances. People have nurtured this view of him as a victim of the Soviet system, but I would say that in many ways, he was one of its proudest products. The Soviets really did believe in the art of cinema.”

However, Tarkovsky did go into exile, encouraged by the cellist Rostropovich: “It was a huge decision. He knew that things would be difficult, but like a lot of Russian artists, he was very attached to Russia in a very deep emotional way. He was encouraged by other people to make the jump and that things would not get better.

“It was a very difficult time. At the time, nobody realised that Perestroika was coming. That was his tragedy. I was there a lot at the time, and we didn’t really believe it was going to happen. By the time he left, I would not say he had burnt his bridges, but he had made his decision. And he had a support network in the west. He also got ill with cancer not long after he decided to leave. Even when he died, at the end of 86 (aged 54), nobody knew how Perestroika was going to go.”

But it is important to remember the respect he was still held in back in Russia.

“I was in Russia when the news came of his death in Paris, and I remember the KGM man who was monitoring us just said ‘We have just lost our greatest film-maker’.”

Tarkovsky had been part of the great optimistic era under Khrushchev in the early 60s, but then in 67-68 the shutters had come down: “Party discipline was imposed. He did and he didn’t have artistic freedom. He could make films, but it was a question of whether they would be shown. In the end, he decided to leave.”

It is a fuller picture of the man that Ian is intending to give in Chichester…

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