Of all arthouse filmmakers out there, none seem to reach the heights of the forever enigmatic Andrei Tarkovsky. His movies are extremely long, hard to digest and boring, but don’t worry, because they’re all in Russian. Yes, despite mountains of critical acclaim, Tarkovsky’s movies are hands down the hardest I’ve ever had to watch. I decided to utilize a long weekend and binge all 7 of Tarkovsky’s feature films, and his graduation project for good measure. I may have missed it back then, on account of being completely burnt out from a solid 15 hours of Russian arthouse movies, but most of these movies are some of the most profound pieces of art I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. So without further ado, here’s my personal ranking of Tarkovsky’s 7 features, plus his debut short as an added bonus.
#8: Solaris (1972)
Solaris is long, slow, grating, meditative and explores gigantic themes in a gigantic runtime. Did I say Solaris? I meant everything this man has ever made. The difference is, Solaris fails to make those engaging. Solaris takes all the hard-to digest components of Tarkovsky and puts extra emphasis on each and every one of those. The problem is that these Tarkovsky-isms don’t fit this particular science fiction landscape in the least. It feels like a spiritual companion piece to the sci-fi masterpiece 2001: a Space Odyssey, but it's in no way as polished or ambitious. Solaris is meandering, it jumps from too many plotlines, it never embraces sci-fi elements to make it unique and the ideas are too spaced and radical to create a lasting impact. It’s Tarkovky’s least favourite of his movies and I definitely share that sentiment as well.
#7: The Steamroller and the Violin (1960)
Short and sweet, that’s basically it. The Steamroller and the Violin might be at its core, thinly veiled propaganda but it just feels like a nice little story about a young boy befriending a grizzled construction worker. Is it memorable? Not in the least, but considering it was Tarkovsky’s graduation project, there’s definitely something to admire in this minuscule little propaganda piece.
#6: Ivan's Childhood (1962)
Now we get into the ones that I actually enjoyed. Ivan’s Childhood doesn’t so much feel like a film, rather a haunting photo album. The plot isn’t too important, which hinders the film as much as it assists it, but the magic comes from the visuals. Tarkovsky made arguably his most visually spellbinding film as his debut. The grey night sky illuminated by passing flares, the birch forests stretching into the heavens, the rugged, war-torn wasteland, all washed in a gorgeous black and white palette. It’s a film where you forget the story and the characters immediately after the credits roll but the visuals stay with you long after.
#5: The Sacrifice (1986)
The Sacrifice is pure Tarkovsky. I enjoyed it, but not as much as it seemed I should have. It’s sad, sadder than his others, he made it while he was battling cancer and the reflective worldview and melancholic sadness surrounding the film feels ever present throughout the film's entire runtime. It’s gorgeous to look at even when the film loses a lot of steam after the halfway mark. Still a gorgeous film overall.
#4: Andrei Rublev (1966)
Andrei Rublev is an absolute behemoth of a film. It’s a hulking 3 hour black and white Russian biopic about art, life, faith, and legacy. It’s the second hardest of his movies to sit through, but just like the other one, when it’s all over, the importance of the film washes over you. I don’t think this is one of my favourite movies of all time, but it deserves its spot among the greatest ever made. It’s very meditative and very philosophical, and unlike Solaris or Ivan’s Childhood, the themes remain poignant.
#3: Mirror (1975)
I nearly fell asleep three separate times while watching this, but I loved it. Mirror is the hardest one of his to watch in my opinion. It’s non-linear, poetic and certain parts feel like straight gibberish. I was initially planning on rating this as one of the lower Tarkovsky films, but when I eventually understood it, the genius was impossible to ignore. This is a film of memories, the movie equivalent of a dream. Nothing makes a lot of sense but fragments of a life briefly pop up on screen before transitioning to the next part of the dream. It’s one hell of an experience, albeit, one that’s hard to get through.
#2: Stalker (1979)
This is often considered Tarkovksy’s best work, and for good reason. Stalker is a journey and a half. The main 3 men give fantastic performances and the ideas presented feel fully realized in the sci-fi world, unlike Solaris. It’s long and slow but it has arguably the most memorable moments in his filmography. It’s a great one to start with and in my opinion, his most digestible. Stalker serves as a great introduction to anyone looking to get into Tarkovsky's work.
#1: Nostalghia (1983)
This is probably my hottest take on this list, but holy crap did Nostalghia resonate with me. It’s a bleak, dark, depressing movie. Everything is slow and hard to sit through, and that’s where the genius shows. Interspersed with the actual story, we are shown snippets of the main character’s past. Tarkovsky made this while in exile from Russia, and his complicated relationship with his homeland is at the forefront. He loves it as much as he hates it, he longed to get away but now that he’s gone, he misses it. It’s a whirlwind of complex emotions, and instead of offering a definitive answer, it just relishes in the pain. Poetic, meditative, affecting, Nostalghia is, in my opinion, peak Tarkovsky.