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
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.