A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

Donatas Banionis in Solaris
Kris Kelvin: Donatas Banionis
Khari: Natalya Bondarchuk
Sartorius: Anatoliy Solonitsyn
Snaut: Jüri Järvet
Kelvin's Father: Nikolay Grinko
Kelvin's Mother: Olga Barnet
Anri Berton: Vladislav Dvorzhetskiy
Dr. Gribaryan: Sos Sargsyan

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay: Fridrikh Gorenshteyn, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem
Cinematography: Vadim Yusov
Production design: Mikhail Romadin
Music: Eduard Artemev

Andrei Tarkovsky called Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) "lifeless," and viewing Tarkovsky's Solaris, made a few years later, it's apparent why. As I said in my comments on his Nostalghia (1983), Tarkovsky was a romantic for whom humankind's alienation from nature is a primary theme. Solaris begins with lush images of nature, of water, greenery, birds and dogs and horses, whereas Kubrick's film begins with (and seems to celebrate) the evolution of human beings into masters of technology, to the point that the most human character in the film is HAL, the computer. Technology in Tarkovsky's film has run amok, but not in the way HAL does in 2001: In contrast to the idyllic scene at the home of the protagonist's father that opens Solaris, the world of technology is endless ribbons of crisscrossing freeways, unreliable communications media, and the dilapidated space station that hovers over the ocean on the titular planet. In lesser hands than Tarkovsky's, portraying the disjunction between humanity and nature would lead to didacticism. But by immersing the viewer in the world of Solaris, by refusing to coach the viewer, Tarkovsky makes us work to assimilate his artistic vision. In that respect, he's not so far from Kubrick as his dismissal of 2001 might suggest.  Both films are immersive experiences, stretching the boundaries of conventional narrative to leave a viewer puzzled and provoked. And both end with visions of transformation and transcendence. It might also be said that Kubrick's fetal star-child, on its passage back to Earth, is a vision that allows for more hope than that of Kris Kelvin on an island of static and sterile illusions in the vast sea of Solaris. In any case, what a cast: especially Natalya Bondarchuk as an infinitely touching Hari, that frightened and frightening figment of Solaris's misinterpretation of Kelvin's past, and, walking the line near madness, Jüri Järvet as Snaut and Anatoliy Solonitsyn as Sartorius, the scientists damned to confinement on a space station manipulated by an uncomprehending but superior alien intelligence. I think the critic who likened Banionis to Glenn Ford, a handsome actor tending toward blandness, is on the mark, but Kelvin needs to be a little bland to serve as foil for the extraordinary things that occur around him.  

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