Neil Young’s Film Lounge – One Day in the Life of Andreu Arsenevich (TV)



Une journee dAndrei Arsenevitch : France 2000 : Chris Marker : 55mins (made for TV)

He buries himself in Russia: the map becomes the territory and history, in turn, is an element.
(Marker on Tarkovskys Boris Godunov)

A heartfelt, thoroughly engrossing tribute to one of the key figures of 20th century cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky, by another: maverick French avant-gardist Marker. In less than an hour, we are guided through an enthralling tour of Tarkovskys entire output, incorporating brief extracts from his first student film (an adaptation of Hemingways The Killers) all seven of his features, and even video clips of his staging of the opera Boris Godunov.

Marker intersperses his film with two strands of invaluable documentary footage: Tarkovsky on location in Sweden, executing the nightmarishly ambitious six-minute metaphysical tracking shot at the climax of his final film, The Sacrifice (1986); and, only a few months later, lying in bed during his final illness in Paris where he greets friends and family shortly before his death.

Its very hard to fail with such strong material, but Marker deserves credit for cutting together such a superb greatest hits compilation of indelible Tarkovsky moments One Day is an ideal introduction to a director whose name remains, in some circles, a byword for highbrow inaccessibility. Marker concentrates on certain recurring images (horses and dogs; houses; trees; paintings), techniques (camera placement; use of music) and themes (passage between zones of existence; Russia itself), building a strong argument in support of Tarkovskys stated claim that he tried to place cinema on a par with the other arts.

The tone is deliberately hagiographic – with the exception of the masterpiece Mirror, Tarkovskys films are seldom without their serious flaws, but there’s no room for nay-sayers in Markers movie. The Soviet authorities are roundly (and rightly) castigated for the obstacles they so often placed in Tarkovskys path, but it might have been helpful if Marker had found room for one or two commentators who might put the filmography in a wider context, or examine it with more objective eyes.

Markers enthusiasm is persuasive, but once or twice his voice-over (spoken by Alexandra Stewart) comes up with incongruously prosaic lines, or oddities that sound like something has been lost in translation from the French: surely there’s a better way to sum up Tarkovskys achievement that to say he is the only film-maker whose entire work lies between two children and two trees (a reference to the first shot of his first movie, Ivans Childhood and the last of The Sacrifice). And the film deserves a stronger title than Markers limp echo of Solzhenitsyns One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Its also very frustrating to be told about, but not shown, the catastrophe which befell the director during his first attempt to film the six-minute Sacrifice shot. But apart from this inexplicable omission, Marker has crafted an original, intelligent and sensitive contribution to film criticism in general and Tarkovsky studies in particular. One Day is both the record of a singular artist, and the record of a singular man. A nagging question remains, however: why didn’t Marker show us it until 14 years after Tarkovskys death?

1st January, 2003
(seen on video, same day)

by Neil Young