Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just watched...

...Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 epic "Stalker."

“Stalker,” by Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky, and based on the novella “Roadside Picnic” by the Russian Strugatsky Brothers is a legendary cult film made in 1979. The story it came from is explicitly a science fiction story concerning itself with an extraterrestrial alien visitation and the objects the Visitors left behind. These objects carry special powers and the entire area of the Visitation, a once-industrial area now named The Zone and full of ruins, suffers from odd and often dangerous phenomena such as gravitational wells that can flatten anything within, sentient lightning and poisonous alien plants.

Billed as a science fiction film, “Stalker,” like Tarkovsky’s other legendary film “Solaris” (also a science fiction story), feels empty and cavernous. Several factors contribute to this feeling: like “Solairs,” “Stalker” features scenes with long, lingering shots on elements of nature such as a stream or tree leaves, very sparse dialogue, and an emptiness, and even a stillness, that seems to surround every character. Having said that, the film is in reality far from “empty.” There are no "sci-fi special effects" but there is a frightening, compelling story line to follow, visuals with arresting composition to see, and a fascinating music score and sound design to hear. And of course there are some large, all-too-human ideas going on. The Stalker of the title is a man who leads expeditions to The Zone, much like a Sherpa. Stalkers are knowledgeable about and expert in the dangers of The Zone. But why would one want to travel to the The Zone, you ask? In the heart of the area is a room that, when entered, grants wishes. But not the wish you say out loud or fool yourself into thinking you want… the wish that is secretly in the seed of your soul, your unspoken wish.

Tarkovsky’s version of this story, despite the fact that the authors of the original novella worked on the screenplay, is a much more enigmatic and oblique tale… especially the magical, crushing, puzzling ending. It is good to know about the source material for the film before sitting down to watch “Stalker.”

Recommend? At nearly three hours, I will recommend this only to true cinephiles (and I know you're out there). If the prospect of watching a long, slow moving film in Russian with English subtitles does not scare you (and good for you!), dive right in!

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