Stalker – Film Review

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Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Alisa Freyndlikh, Natalya Abramova, Faime Jurno, E. Kostin, & Raymo Rendi.

162mins | Sci-Fi, Drama, Art House | PG

I was blessed enough to see all of the feature films of Andrei Tarkovsky last year at Chapter. Through patience and determination, his films can reveal a divinity on the screen, no other director has achieved.

Watch this trailer to capture the opaque atmosphere of his films:

The reason for this second wind screening of Stalker? Turns out artist Larissa Sansour picked it to screen since her exhibition is also on at Chapter. It’s highly stimulating show, mixing fine art, archaeology and politics. Sansour has Palestinian roots and heavily inspires her work. An extensive review of her show should be in the cards.

At first viewing last year, I found Stalker to be utterly laborious and found the climax to be a huge letdown. Granted it seems I’ve grown up so much since then and now find the work to be an utter revelation. It’s one of those rare films which screams to be rewatched, each time a deeper understanding is achieved. Whilst it may vary from its literary source (Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky) it’s get away with it thanks to the very subtle fantasy elements within its core.

It’s a heavy going Sci-Fi, art house venture which, depending who you ask leads nowhere and is a massive let down. Although the realisation that the Zone can make your dreams come true is proven with the Stalker’s daughter using her mind to move a glass on the table. Sadly, our three eager heroes never make it into the room itself, after their very long journey to it. It’s the greatest human tragedy: when faced with the deliverance of all your hopes and desires, you still turn away in fear.

The time spent in The Zone is for all three is terrifying and exhausting. All footage in the Zone appears clear, whilst away from it, all is sepia and drab. Anything could alter at any moment when there. A room full of small dunes feels like something Anish Kapour would exhibit, a voice from nowhere telling them to go back and a waterfall which mysteriously comes out of nowhere, are all evident to the unpredictable nature of the Zone. The terms Zone and Stalker would later be used regarding nuclear disasters and those who bring people into the contaminated area, such is the influence of this file.

The three characters of the Stalker, Writer and Professor each have their own drive to get to the Zone. The Writer is fascinating and also infuriating since he is always philosophising and arrogant about his practice. Yet, when faced with the dunes he has a bit of a meltdown.

The writer’s crises are best defined in this statement:

“My conscience wants vegetarianism to win over the world. And my subconscious is yearning for a piece of juicy meat. But what do I want?”

Filmed entirely in Estonia, Stalker also has its darker side. At least three of the cast and crew (Tarkovsky included) would obtain cancer due to the contained areas they filmed in. The first entire shoot was a disaster alone since the lab back home accidentally destroyed all the footage. It would take three full shoots (now being formed into two parts) to make Stalker the film it is today. The great director would be overcome with illness over the next few years, but he still made two more exceptional films: Nostalgia and The Sacrifice to made before his departure.

Above: Tarkovsky giving some truly sound advice to young people. 

This certainly isn’t for everyone (though I do recommend Eduard Artemev’s sublimely exotic score), yet it has gathered a large cult following since its release nearly 40 years ago. It makes you ponder what you would like in the Zone and how it says a lot about all of us in what we want and if we chose to not enter.

A sobering masterpiece. Pure cinema.

Rating: *****

Stalker is now available on DVD & Blu-Ray, from the Criterion Collection in a remastered edition of the film now.

Photo Credit: Toronto Independent Film Festival

Related Articles:

Review: Sculpting Time: Andrei Tarkovsky Retrospective – Part 1 @ Chapter

Film Review: The Death of Stalin

Film Review: The Party

Photo Still: Toronto Independent Film Festival

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