Film Review - Ivan's Childhood
Andrei Tarkovsky did one more student film after “There Will Be No Leave Today” called “The Steamroller and the Violin”. I haven’t found it yet, so whenever I can get to it, I will. This next film, his debut film, is probably one of the most important films to be made in the Soviet Union at that time. Released in 1962, Tarkovsky stumbled into this project when the original director, Eduard Abalov, was fired from the film. Thankfully, Vadim Yusov, the cinematographer on “Ivan’s Childhood” had worked previously with Tarkovsky on “The Steamroller and the Violin”.
The film was based on a novella called “Ivan” by Soviet writer Vladimir Bogomolov. The film tells the story of young Ivan Bondarev, a 12 year old that lost his family during World War II and is looking to avenge his family. The fact that he is a kid makes him a good candidate for spy work. There are members of the Russian military who know his identity and care for him when he comes back from his mission. The story is not complex and while at its core it could be said that it is a revenge film, it doesn’t follow the usual tropes of that style of film. This film is so much more.
I am not a connoisseur of Soviet films, but I have seen my fair share of war films and I know there are basically two types: the ones that emphasize the patriotism and victory and the ones that deal with the terrible consequences of war. This film is very much the former. Not so much a criticism of the Soviets or even the Nazis, but a criticism of war in general. The difference between this film and the usual war fare is the way that Tarkovsky chooses to tell us the story through images. Ivan’s backstory is mainly told through surreal dreams and nightmares. The sudden change between the brightness of the dreams and the stark contrast with the reality of Ivan’s world is a nice touch that helps to put into perspective how quickly things change for some people during war.
The real star of the film is without a doubt Andrei Tarkovsky’s direction. There are some scenes that are not that important to the story but are made important simply because Tarkovsky’s ideas are prevalent throughout. The static camera and characters coming in and out of the picture work to make the illusion that what you are witnessing is a dream. And it works. Scenery like the one in the kiss scene, filled with leafless trees make it all seem surreal.
This is a fantastic film and everyone should give it a try. It is nothing like people are used to nowadays, but that shouldn’t detract anyone from enjoying Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood.