One of the great feature debuts, Andrei Tarkovsky brought striking vision & elliptical story technique to what might have been just another heroic Soviet-Realist dip into the ‘Great Patriotic War’ Laid out in heightened realism for scenes at the front (where a river separates Soviet & German forces), and a more stylized dreamworld to capture a lost Pastoral past, the film mainly focuses on the unit’s top scout, 12 year-old Ivan. Stubborn & revenge-minded after losing his entire family, he’d only run away from a group home or military school. Plus, he’s the best reconnaissance man they’ve got. (A romantic sidebar between two officers & a young nurse has some trouble fitting in.) For the most part, Tarkovsky hits uncanny tones & rhythms that feel exactly right, pulling off a fable-like quality and epic sweep to this intimate war story. Uncredited story editor Andrei Konchalovsky probably deserves a nod for tamping down the Tarkovsky navel-gazing instincts that sunk so many of his acclaimed later projects, giving the film a narrative drive that carries us over the missing story beats of a more traditional film. (Tarkovsky mavens resent the note of conventionality, but this film, and his next, ANDREI RUBLEV/’66, gain grounding from Konchalovsky’s input, finding a happy medium between Tarkovsky mystical & Konchalovsky mundane.) Original in many ways, IVAN is still a first feature and the list of influences is long, from the Soviet CRANES ARE FLYING/’57 to Mizoguchi’s UGETSU/’53. Though the real touchstone may have been Albert Lamorisse’s WHITE MANE/’53.*
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Unexpectedly, after winning the Golden Bear @ Venice, the Italian Communist Press denounced the film! Ah, the ways of Party Line are mysterious. So too the reprieves , as the attack was soon ‘corrected.’
DOUBLE-BILL: *Try one of the ‘influences’ listed above (though CRANES now plays as unintentional parody).