Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction novel of the same name, Andrei Tarkovsky’s iconic film Solaris is set aboard a space station orbiting a planet where a crew of scientists is studying its ecosystem. A scientist is sent to the space station to account for strange events that have been taking place onboard. Solaris charts a psychological territory haunted by phantoms, in which the real and the imagined are inextricably mixed, presenting a critique of faith in pure reason. As Tarkovsky writes in Sculpting in Time: “Solaris had been about people lost in the cosmos and obliged, whether they liked it or not, to take one more step up the ladder of knowledge. Man’s unending quest for knowledge, given him gratuitously, is a source of great tension, for it brings with it constant anxiety, hardship, grief, and disappointment, as the final truth can never be known.”
Frequently compared to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tarkovsky’s directing style is marked by long takes with slow, careful framing, allowing the film’s themes of memory and love to take root.
Shadow Play is a series of films that tread nimbly between reality and illusion, acknowledging the artificial nature of cinema. Referencing the tradition of shadow puppetry, the origins of cinema in phantasmagoria, and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, each film draws on the metaphors of light as reality and shadow as artifice.
In Plato’s The Republic, the allegory of the cave illustrates the difference between truth and illusion. Many writers have noted that Allegory of the Cave (written c. 360 BCE), bears great resemblance to the contemporary movie theater.
The most famous Soviet filmmaker since Sergei M. Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky (the son of noted poet Arseniy Tarkovsky) studied music and Arabic in Moscow before enrolling in the Soviet film school VGIK. He shot to international attention with his first feature, Ivan's Childhood (1962), which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. This resulted in high expectations for his second feature Andrei Rublyov (1969), which was banned by the Soviet authorities until 1971. It was shown at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival at 4 am on the last day to prevent it from winning a prize—but it won one nonetheless. Solaris (1972) was acclaimed by many in the West as the Soviet answer to Kubrick's 2001, but he ran into official trouble again with The Mirror (1975), a dense, personal web of autobiographical memories with a radically innovative plot structure. Stalker (1979) had to be completely reshot on a dramatically reduced budget after an accident in the laboratory destroyed the first version, and after Nostalghia (1983), shot in Italy (with official approval), Tarkovsky defected to the West. His last film, The Sacrifice (1986) was shot in Sweden with many of Ingmar Bergman's regular collaborators, and won an almost unprecedented four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. He died of cancer in 1986.