Ivan's Childhood

[Иваново детство]

(1962) USSR

Directed by Andrei Tarkovskii

Written by Vladimir Bogomolov and Mikhail Papava. Cinematography by Vadim Iusov. Art Direction by Evgenii Cherniaev. Music by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov. With Nikolai Burliaev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgenii Zharikov, Stepan Krylov, Nikolai Grin'ko.

In Russian with English subtitles

Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Tarkovsky's feature-length debut, is also known in English under the title My Name Is Ivan. It recounts the story of a boy-soldier who volunteers to work as an agent for Soviet partisans during WWII after his family has been slaughtered by Nazi soldiers. Unlike his adult fellow-partisans, this ten-year-old boy maintains a stoic exterior, seemingly oblivious to the brutality of war.
At issue in this film, however, is less an anti-war polemic than an argument against violence more broadly conceived, and against vengeance as a method for restoring moral order. Ivan is not redeemed by his mission of retribution; instead, he is transformed into a moribund automaton. The film, imbued with religious symbolism by its decrepit Orthodox artifacts—icons, crosses, a ruined church—suggests a spiritual alternative to secular justice in muted tones typical of later Thaw culture. This understated spiritual language is supported by explorations of Ivan's internal world through memories and dreams, which sharply contrast with the film's moments of harsh realism.
Based on the story Ivan by Vladimir Bogomolov, the film makes extensive use of visual citations from Dovzhenko's Earth and other early Soviet film texts. Tarkovsky's provocative experimentation, given the context of Soviet restraints, further suggests a re-engagement with the aesthetics of the Early Soviet period in its use of crane shots, double exposure, negative film background, diagonals, and long tracking shots, as well as its combination of documentary footage with passages of unabashed lyricism.
Many of the characteristic oppositional thematic repetitions of the later Tarkovsky make their first appearances in this film: fire and dripping water; shots of the earth and the cries of off-screen birds. His blending of expressionist techniques with surrealism and documentary lends this film an extraordinary emotional range and variety, marking it as one of Tarkovsky's best films.
Awarded the Golden Lion at the 1962 Venice Film Festival, as well as sixteen other prizes at San Francisco, Acapulco, and elsewhere, Ivan's Childhood reached a Soviet audience of 16.7 viewers during its initial release. Although less well known in the West than Tarkovsky's later films (Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, and Stalker), Ivan's Childhood has remained among the favorite Soviet films of the Thaw era.

Andrei Tarkovskii (1932-1986) studied at the Moscow Institute for Oriental Languages and the All-Union State Filmmaking Institute (Mikhail Romm's workshop). Wary of Tarkovsky's international acclaim, Soviet censors resisted or delayed release of such masterpieces as Andrei Rublev (1966), The Mirror (1975), and Stalker (1979). After filming Soviet-Italian co-production Nostalgia (1982) Tarkovskii learnt that should he return to Russia he would no longer be allowed to make films, and remained in Europe. His last film, The Sacrifice (1986), which he completed shortly before his death of cancer, won an almost unprecedented four prizes in Cannes, including the Special Jury Prize for best film.