Framework: Ivan’s Childhood

Our DIY film school series continues with the debut feature of Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky, screening at Cinéma du Parc this weekend.

Framework is a year-long DIY film school; 52 essential films to expand your consciousness.

Andrei Tarkovsky is cinema royalty. To understand Tarkovsky’s cinema is to accept that within his films, time is elastic. The present is always the ethereal quality of overlapping time periods that move from reality to dream to subjective memory, and the guiding force in his narratives.

Ivan’s Childhood, made in 1962, is the director’s first feature film and (relatively speaking) the most accessible of his works in terms of an initiation. Ivan (Nikolay Burlyaev) is a Russian child who is forced into adulthood after his family become casualties of the tragic conditions of WWII. Tough beyond his years, with a feisty temperament to boot, Ivan has a will to be useful that finds him acting as a self-appointed spy, determined to run reconnaissance missions for the Eastern front.

Nurturing connections with lieutenants and captains, who form a surrogate family for the orphan, Ivan diligently reports back on everything he has seen in German-occupied territory, systematically and with the attention to detail that would be expected of a solider. Only when Ivan falls into dreams are we reminded that he is not a man of the military, but a child who has had no choice but to age exponentially due to the conditions of his environment.

Ivan’s Childhood should not only be recognized for its narrative exploration of human resilience, courage and fearlessness, but for its absolutely breathtaking cinematography. Using the parameters of the frame, Tarkovsky expands filmic space by allowing characters to move freely within the shot while remaining captured in a number of long takes. Without the option of cutting away to re-establish space, the depth of the shots becomes stretched and redefined, allowing a more intuitive, dream-like cinema to emerge.

In his 25-year career, each of the eight feature films Tarkovsky directed can easily be accorded the title of masterpiece. Conjoined through recurrent motifs of vanitas, rebirth, spirituality and mortality, his oeuvre is metaphysical and profound, assured to leave a fundamental impression on lovers of cinema and those who seek an enriching film experience. ■

Ivan’s Childhood screens in 35mm at Cinéma du Parc on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. as part of the Russian Masters retrospective. The film is also part of the Criterion Collection and is available to rent at Boîte Noire in the east, Avenue Video in the west, and iTunes if you don’t want to leave your house.

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