Back in 1962, next to no one knew who Andrei Tarkovsky was. Today, his is a name every cinephile swears by. It is no wonder then, that one of the best world war films to have come out of Russia was a handiwork of this genius filmmaker. Ivan’s Childhood was Tarkovsky’s directorial debut. With his trademark camerawork and nonlinear storytelling, he went on to create cinematic brilliance that finds relevance to this day.
The film more or less centers around Ivan (Nikolay Burlyaev), a 12-year-old kid orphaned by the war, who works as a spy for the Russian army. His diminutive frame lets him enter enemy lines unencumbered, so that he can relay valuable information back to the Soviet Army. Once he returns, the commander decides to stop putting the boy at risk and educate him. But young Ivan, hellbent on avenging his family, decides to venture into enemy territory once more.
A parallel plot revolving around a female medical assistant plays out on the sidelines. The woman Masha (Valentina Malyavina) is coveted by a young lieutenant, but she seems aloof. This storyline, though seemingly disconnected, plays a pivotal role in explaining that war has no heroes or villains. War is just regular men succumbing to regular human desires.
It is indeed rare for any film to be as immersive in its approach as Ivan’s Childhood. By using graceful POV shots, Tarkovsky makes sure we feel one with Ivan’s sorrow and angst. There’s crisp editing at work so no scene feels drawn out or cut short. One scene in particular sees the camera pan along the wide expanse of the beach, before stopping abruptly to give us a glimpse of two dead youths. This scene, like several others, sends shivers down your spine with its sheer honesty.
Shot in rich black and white, Ivan’s Childhood set the benchmark for cinematography back in the day. I mean, we are talking Tarkovsky here. The man who made a fan out Ingmar Bergman. The dialogues are splendidly uttered in silence, with the music only added to add tension once in a while. In today’s age, where movies overdose on blare horns for every establishing shot, one often forgets the importance of quiet in a scene. This is a film that hits all the right notes to send the right message.
Kudos to the folks at Matterden (formerly Deepak Talkies) to have brought this wonderful piece of cinema to the people of Mumbai. The theatre will be presenting one world war based movie everyday till May 14, 2015 as a part of its World War Festival. If you love world war movies like Life is Beautiful and Schindler’s List, then you should definitely catch the other lesser known movies that are stoic in their own rights.
Why should you watch this film?
All in all, Ivan’s Childhood is a powerhouse of a film that leaves you saddened and elated at the same time. The innocence of a boy twisted and turned into an object of hate by the war makes for a tale that will live on for ages to come.