Ivan’s Childhood(The Criterion Collection)
Director - Andrei Tarkovsky
Cast - Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov
Country of Origin - Russia
Discs - 1
Distributor - Criterion
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 02/02/13
The Film (4/5)
Ivan's Childhood follows Ivan, a 12 year old Russian child, whose parents were killed during World War II shattering his psyche, and sending him on a quest for revenge against the German army responsible for the tragedy. This revenge comes in the form of the espionage work he does for the Russian army. Because of his size Ivan is able to access places that are not available to other Russian soldiers, due to this he can more easily obtain information otherwise unavailable to them.
As the films story opens, he returns to a Russian military encampment with information meant for Captain Kholin. Once Kholin arrives, he reveals that the German army has recently regrouped, and is planning an all out assault on the Russians. Kholin, happy with the information Ivan is provided, but concerned for Ivan's safety announces that he will send Ivan off to an exclusive military academy far away from the conflict. Ivan, of course, will have nothing of it he is angry young man, and his revenge will not be complete until the German army falls, he refuses (and even actually makes a false threat to join the Germans should they try to push the issue), and thus Ivan is sent on another mission one of significant importance to the Russians, but one that proves to be Ivan's last.
Tarkovsky as a filmmaker created work with a very spiritual, mediative quality to it. This goes back to the very beginning to his career and this very film. As of this viewing I have now seen over half of Tarkovsky's oeuvre (I have yet to see Steamroller and the Violin, Mirror, and Stalker), and while I personally do not connect to the spiritual side of his filmmaking equation, I have always been touched by their mediative and dreamlike qualities. His films tend to linger on lifes little moments, and have a very nostalgic feel to them.
The performances in Ivan's Childhood are fantastic throughout, but of special note should be the performance of Ivan himself played by Nikolay Burlyaev. If there is one thing difficult to achieve in cinema it is a truly great performance from a child actor, it is rare to get something as powerful as Kes, Leon, or Ivan's Childhood.
Ivan's Childhood being Tarkovsky's first film there is a certain rawness to it, and some of the themes I mentioned aren't as fully realized as they would be in his later features (The Scarce, Solaris, etc). In a way Ivan's Childhood almost works as a Rosetta Stone for what's to come in his filmography, an introduction to the cinematic language of Andrei Tarkovsky, that would be greatly expanded on, and perfected throughout his 5 remaining features. That is not to say that Ivan's Childhood is lacking, not even taking it as a debut feature from one of the true cinematic masters the film is one of great beauty, this is a beauty it achieves in spite of the war time imagery and grim themes that pervade much of the film. Ivan's Childhood is a war film with a dreamlike ambiance, that manages to balance great performances, great direction, and present a message about the dark side of war. It is classic Tarkovsky, and the beginning of a legendary filmography.
Criterion has presented Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood in a 1:34:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that preserves the films original aspect ratio. As far as black and white transfer go, this is one of the finest I've seen, and I've seen many. The contrast on this transfer is absolutely fantastic. The clarity and detail present in the image is absolutely stunning, and really is most detailed in close-up shots. I didn't even notice any instances of print damage anywhere on this transfer. Seriously, absolutely beautiful.
Criterion have presented Ivan's Childhood with a Russian LPCM 1.0 mono track with Optional English subtitles. This track is absolutely clear throughout, everything in the mix is audible, and I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks or hissing throughout.
Criterion have put together a nice slate of extras for their release of Ivan's Childhood. This disc kicks off with Life as a Dream, a 31 minute interview with the author of a book on Tarkovsky Vida T. Johnson, who discusses the history of the film, and the symbolism behind certain details. This is followed up with a 5 part interview with star Nikolay Burlyaev who played Ivan in the film, and discusses his contribution to Ivan's Childhood. The interviews in total run 14 minutes. This is followed up with an interview with Vadim Yusov, the cinematographer on the film. It's broken up into 4 parts, and runs about 13 minutes. The set is rounded off with a booklet of liner notes about the film including one by Tarkovsky himself, and also a poem called Ivan's Willow by Tarkovsky's Father.
It's not often a director comes out with a debut film that near perfectly encompasses his style, but Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood is certainly one of those films. It is a film that despite its war setting manages to contain the beautiful, dreamlike and meditative ambiance of Tarkovsky's later features. The restoration from Criterion is nothing short of stunning, and the extras are slim, but informative and interesting. The Criterion Blu-ray of Ivan's Childhood comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED