Monday, 11 February 2013
Tarkovsky's interpreter reveals details about his life
In the summer of 1985, the great, Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, shot what turned out to be his last film; he died the following year. Tarkovsky directed five films in the Soviet Union, including classics like “Stalker” and “Andrei Rublev,” then “Nostalghia” in Italy and his final masterpiece, “The Sacrifice,” in Sweden. Layla Alexander-Garrett worked as his interpreter during the shooting of “The Sacrifice”; “Andrei Tarkovsky: Collector of Dreams” is based on the diaries she kept that year and shows the director in a very human light.
Tarkovsky’s cinematic trademarks include an emphasis on spiritual themes (which brought him into conflict with the atheist Soviet authorities), long, slow takes and haunting music. His last movie’s strange story involves the “sacrifice” of an aging actor and critic, who leaves his family and burns down his own beautiful house in order to prevent nuclear catastrophe.
The Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, praised Tarkovsky, calling him the greatest filmmaker: “who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” Images of dreams and reflections recur throughout Alexander-Garrett’s memoir. The two longest sections describe the actual shooting, often frame by frame, of “The Sacrifice.”
The chapter on “Gotland Dreams” is a particularly evocative and fascinating portrait of an artist, working with, and sometimes against, the windswept, Baltic landscape he has chosen to represent timeless simplicity. She reveals his stubborn methods (like insisting all the dandelions are removed from the grass), verging on the sublime as he allows the sun to shine straight into the camera for the closing shots after hours of deliberately veiled light and overcast skies.
On her first encounter with Tarkovsky’s work, a screening of “Ivan’s Childhood” at school, Alexander-Garrett writes “it was as if someone had torn away my skin.” The chance to work with her hero is unexpected and she records it in a lively style; the reverence of the star-struck child sometimes resurfaces, but she can see Tarkovsky’s failings too: his impulsive moods and possessiveness; his autocratic insistence that his interpreter remove her sunglasses; or his insistence that she drink ice tea rather than Coke.