DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Ivan’s Childhood, Blu-ray (1962/2013)

One of the best of the Soviet-era WWII films; on the effects of wars' horrors on children.

Published on February 7, 2013

Ivan’s Childhood, Blu-ray (1962/2013)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cast: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgeni Zherikov
Studio: Janus/The Criterion Collection 397 [1/23/13]
Video: 1.33:1 B&W, 1080p HD
Audio: Russian PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Interview with film scholar Via Johnson, co-author of The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue; Interview with cinematographer Vadim Yusov and actor Burlyaev; Illustrated booklet with essay by film scholar Dina Iordanova: “Between Two Films”, an essay on Tarkovsky, and a poem by the director’s father.
Length: 95 minutes
Rating: ****½

The debut feature film by the great Tarkovsky, and one of the best of the Soviet-era WWII films. It switches regularly between the horrors of the war with its effect on the boy Ivan, and poetic dream sequences of life before the war and in his imagination.

Ivan, whose entire family has been killed in the war, is a sort of scout-spy, and the traumatic realities of the war have taken their toll of him. Tarkovsky has created one of the most unforgettable pictures of the horrible impact of war on children. The cinematography and editing place the film frame with art, but the story if very upsetting, if rather minimalist  Ivan’s Childhood is part of a new sort of Soviet war film with a more individual point of view, and is quite different from previous films in which the glorious Soviet peoples fight against the horrible Germans. This film had great influence on other filmmakers, and George Lucas’ Luke Skywalker was even claimed to be based on Ivan.

I was amazed at the use of an excerpt from Pierre Henry’s The Veil of Orpheus during a scene showing inscriptions on the wall of an underground space the soldier’s occupied. This blood-curdling early musique concrete was entirely appropriate, but although I knew about some French filmmakers of the period using musique concrete on their soundtracks, I didn’t know of the Soviet use of it.

The Blu-ray transfer is superb, and the two interview in the extras are very worth viewing. The enhancement of the few soundtrack components is also appreciated, since Russian films mostly had such execrable sound. Not as great as his later films Solaris, Andrei Rublev, and Stalker, this is still an important feature from a giant of a Russian film director.

—John Sunier




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