Ivan’s Childhood – Movie Review

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Story: Vladimir Bogomolov

Cinematography: Vadim Yuosov

Screen play: Andrei Tarkovsky,Andrei Konchalovsky,Vladimir Bogomolov & Mikhail Papava

Production: MOS Film

Release date: 6th APril 1962

This masterpiece (1962) from Andrei Tarkovsky on the backdrop of second world war will make you fall in love with the movie from the very first scene. The movie was adapted from a story by Vladimir Bogomolov. Tarkovsky got the movie only because it was abandoned by a fellow graduate. He made the most of it and that too in his debut movie, tells a lot about the brilliance of the director. The film focusses on the lives of people crippled by the war rather than on heavy bombings and combats.

The story revolves around a 12-year-old boy Ivan (Nikolai Burlyaev) who happened to be a scout of the Soviet army during the fag end of the second world war. The boy has lost his family during the war. His mother and sister were killed by the Nazis and his father was killed at the border.  Although 12 years old, Ivan’s face depicts none of the innocence of childhood. He is full of anger and overwhelmed by the feeling of avenge. The war has torn away his childhood.

He just enters an army post and announces that he wants to meet the commander. After much persuasion, he was taken to the commander. They decide that he should go to an army school since there is no place for a child in war. The boy refuses to go to the army school since he wanted to continue as a scout. The boy’s stubbornness wins, and he remains as a scout with the army.

The life was hell in Russia during Nazi invasion. The director managed to portray the hardship of war through a few scenes interspersed with a series of dream sequences which took the movie to an altogether different level. There was hardly any scene which depicts a war or a combat. But it is in the air through out and you literally feel it. That shows the brilliance of the director. Brilliant acting and photography have added new dimensions to the movie.

The Photography by Vadim Yusov needs a special mention. The birch tree forests, the dream sequences, the final mission on marsh are a bliss to watch.

Dream sequences:

The boy’s past is revealed mostly through dreams which was shot brilliantly by the director.

The first dream sequence shows the boy strolling through the woods chasing butterflies indicating a happy past.  He tells his mother that there is a cuckoo in the woods. Suddenly he wakes up from the sleep into the dark reality of war.

The second dream sequence shows the boy and his mother taking a deep look into a well. The mother tells the boy that there is a star in the well. In the next scene the boy is shown inside the well trying to hold the water along with the star. Then suddenly the pail comes down amidst a lot of crumbling voices. Ivan cries out for his mother. The mother is seen lying face down on the ground next to the well.

The Third dream shows the boy travelling in a truck with full of apples. Suddenly it starts raining. For the first time we see a little girl, presumably his sister. The boy picks up the apples and holds it in rain.  Apples fall from the vehicle. Some horses appear and they start eating the spilled apples on the road as the vehicle moves by.

The fourth dream clearly indicates the death of the boy. Is it really a dream? The question arises if it is a dream then who is dreaming it since Ivan is already dead. It is an extension of the first dream where the boy was seen drinking water from a bowl on the riverbank. His mother smiles at him and leaves to draw further water from the river. She looks back and again smiles at him.  Suddenly we see the little girl we saw on the third dream running along the banks. The boy runs behind her. The girl keeps running faster. The boy increases his pace and outrun the girl straight into the shallow water where he almost collides with a dead tree.

The story also takes you through the love triangle involving captain Kholin, Lieutenant Galtsev and Masha. Critics have questioned about the romantic element in a serious cinema. It is a universal truth that even during hard times the human emotions remain the same. Moreover, the kissing scene remains one of the best scenes shot ever.

The final mission in marsh where the soldiers try to retrieve the bodies of scouts killed and put on display by the Nazis’ is brilliantly done and will remain etched in your memory. As the film moves to an unavoidable tragic end which wrenches your heart, you are left amazed by the genius of Andrei Tarkovsky.

The movie was well received the world over when it was released. It won the Golden Lion award at the Venice film fest. It had its share of critics, particularly from the communist press. But they were countered by none other than by Jean-Paul Sartre. Ingmar Bergman had to say this about Tarkovsky.

When I discovered the first films of Tarkovsky, it was a miracle. I suddenly found myself before a door to which I had never had the key, a room which I had always wished to penetrate and wherein he felt perfectly at ease. Someone was able to express what I had always wished to say without knowing how. For me Tarkovsky is the greatest filmmaker

Such a brilliant comment from the master!

A must watch if you love realistic movies. The current generation of film makers would do well to watch this movie and would be amazed by the ease with which a debutant  director had handled the scenes.

Full Movie with English subtitles
Nikola Burlyaev – Ivan
Valentin Zubkov- Capt.Kholin
Evgeny Zharikov-Lt.Galtsev
Stepan Krylov – Cap.Katasonov
Nikolai Grinko – Lt.col.Gryaznow
Dmitri Milyutenko – Old Man
Valentina Malyavina – Masha
Irma Raush – Ivan’s Mother
Andrei Konchalovskiy – Soldier