Nostalgia for a Great Past

  • Abstract:

    Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986), the great Russian film director, has a renown that has grown slowly but surly over the past decades. Refusing to be labelled a dissident, from his start he made utmost subjective veracity his inner compass, running up against a system, in which mendacity seemed to be endemic. Due to his international reputation he was in some ways privileged among Soviet filmmakers, nonetheless he could realize only seven films because of constant hampering by the authorities. Nostalghia (1983) is about a Russian intellectual visiting Italy with a research interest regarding an 18th Century Russian composer. But the film is very little plot-driven and mainly about the feelings and melancholic reveries of a Russian far from his home. More importantly, it is about the possibility of spiritual communion between Eastern and Western Europe, namely Italy and Russia. In a way Italy could be considered the heartland of Western Europe, and Russia the cold heartland of Eastern Europe. Tarkovsky’s protagonist states in the beginning of the film bluntly that he is deeply sceptical about the possibility of this communion. Tarkovsky in person repeated this assessment not less bluntly in interviews and discussions. Notwithstanding this apparent scepticism, he endeavoured to create a true artistic unity between an important Italian work of art and an important Russian work of poetry: the “Madonna del Parto” (c.1465) by Piero della Francesca and the poem “Ptichka – Little Bird” by Aleksander Pushkin. In another rather spectacular scene of the film, from the back of the equestrian monument of Marc Aurel, the doomed idealist Domenico gives a speech on universal brotherhood. Tarkovsky gives on that occasion Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” an apparently rough ride conveying a deep meaning. Diplomacy not being a major concern for Tarkovsky, he made daring statements worth to be diplomatic about.