Andrei Arsenevich Tarkovsky was a truly extraordinary film maker. Despite the contraints of the Soviet Union, and the state's need for cinema to be used for propaganda purposes, he managed to retain his artistic integrity to a surprising degree. Whereas in the West film has always suffered the constraints of the market, in the Soviet Union it was still seen as a form of high art, and like classical music and the ballet (and space technology), film was seen as a vehicle for demonstrating the superiority of the Soviet system. Tarkovsky's artistic genius was so great that the Soviet authorities prefered to allow him freedom to create more or less as he saw fit, rather than miss the opportunity to parade his work abroad. Some of his films indeed were shown at international film festivals - to great critical aclaim - but were not shown to domestic audiences because the message was not quite what the authorities would have liked, ...or so I've heard.
For myself, I am regularly amazed by his films and they move me, inhabit my dreams, inspire and transport, though I have almost no idea how he achieves any of these things. Indeed I often find his films difficult to watch - boring - frustrating - painful - and yet I keep coming back to them and I don't really understand why. This gives me the sense that he is operating on a level that I cannot grasp, and yet what he does works, reliably and deeply - he reaches into my soul in a way that no other film maker can. My experience is rather akin to listening to a physicist explaining quantum theory. I cannot follow the reasoning and yet cannot deny that the theory is true, since it's application clearly works. Tarkovsky leaves me awestruck and feeling very definitely inadquate. I want to understand how he does what he does, but I have to confess at present, that I simply don't.
Ingmar Bergman once said, "Tarkovsky is working in a room, on the door of which I am only knocking." Tarkovsky's last film, "Sacrifice", shot in 1986 shortly before his death from cancer, was made in Sweden - in Gottland in fact, where Bergman now lives permanently after his retirement in 1984. It has Swedish dialogue, and was filmed by the cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who worked on many of Bergman's films.
My favourite of Tarkovsky's films is Solaris. The last time I saw it was on the big screen at London's National Film Theatre in February 2005. I saw it with my friend Christian, and although intellectually I can't remember the effect it had on me, just thinking of it now is making my heart jump. The great goal of the scientists on board the space station orbiting Solaris is 'contact' with the alien intelligent life form. I know that the film did to me what the planet Solaris did to the characters in the film: it stretched open my heart, reached inside and touched me. I know it made 'contact' with me, and I am profoundly grateful, though I have no idea how that happened.