Childhood & Early Life
Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky was born on April 4, 1932, in Zavrazhye, a village in the Yuryevetsky District of the Ivanovo Industrial Oblast (present-day Kadyysky District of the Kostroma Oblast, Russia).
His mother, Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, worked as a corrector, and his father, Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky, was an eminent poet and translator. He had a sister named Marina Tarkovskaya.
In 1937, his father left home. In 1941, as the Second World War progressed, he voluntarily enlisted in the army. In 1943, he returned home with a severe injury in his leg. His leg was later amputated, as gangrene had set in. He was then honored with the ‘Order of the Red Star.’
Andrei grew up in Yuryevets, the administrative center of the Yuryevetsky district in Ivanovo Oblast, and Moscow, the capital of Russia.
He went to ‘Moscow School No. 554.’ He also attended a music school and an art school.
He suffered from tuberculosis and remained in a hospital from late 1947 to mid-1948.
After graduating school, he went to the ‘Oriental Institue’ in Moscow, a branch of the ‘Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.,’ to learn Arabic. He did well in the early semesters and learned to speak Arabic. However, he dropped out of the course, as he earned a job.
He served as a prospector with the ‘Academy of Science Institute for Non-Ferrous Metals and Gold.’ While working there, he decided to join a film school.
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In 1954, Andrei successfully applied for a course on film direction at the ‘All-Union State Institute of Cinematography,’ presently known as the ‘Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography,’ (VGIK) in Moscow.
There, he was exposed to films of the French “New Wave” filmmakers, Italian neorealists, and reputed directors such as Bergman, Bresson, Bunuel, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Wajda.
The movie ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ by Wajda left a deep impression on Andrei.
One of his teachers, Mikhail Romm, also taught many other acclaimed film directors.
In 1956, he co-wrote and directed the short film ‘The Killers.’ This was his first film as a student. The following year, he co-scripted and co-directed another short movie, ‘There Will Be No Leave Today,’ which was released in 1959. In 1958, he completed the screenplay titled ‘Concentrate.’ The following year, he co-wrote the script ‘Antarctica – Distant Country.’
Between late 1959 and early 1960, he co-wrote the script for ‘The Steamroller and the Violin,’ which became his graduation directorial project. He earned his diploma in 1960. The following year, the movie won the ‘First Prize’ at the ‘New York Student Film Festival.’
In 1962, he co-wrote (uncredited) and directed his first feature film, ‘Ivan’s Childhood.’ This movie brought him massive international recognition and the ‘Golden Lion Award’ at the ‘Venice Film Festival’ the same year.
The 1966 movie ‘Andrei Rublev,’ which he co-wrote and directed, became a controversial film. The Soviet authorities did not approve of many portions of the movie. He had to edit it several times, which led to a lot of versions of the film with varying lengths. Finally, a truncated version of the film was widely released in 1971.
In 1972, he co-wrote and directed the science-fiction art film ‘Solaris.’ The film won the ‘Grand Prix Special du Jury’ and was nominated for the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the ‘Cannes Film Festival.’ The movie also earned him the coveted ‘FIPRESCI Award.’
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In 1974, he completed ‘Mirror,’ a movie loosely based on his life. His father was involved in this movie as a narrator. His father’s poems were used in the movie. Andrei clashed with the Russian authorities for this film, too. The same year, he finished the script titled ‘Hoffmannia,’ but it never saw the light of day.
He directed ‘Hamlet,’ his only play, which was staged at the ‘Lenkom Theatre’ in Moscow in December 1976.
Toward the end of 1978, he co-wrote the screenplay for ‘Sardor.’
His last movie in the Soviet Union was ‘Stalker,’ released in 1979. The production of the film was delayed due to the poor development of the negatives. Hence, the initial crew was dismissed, and a new team was brought in to reshoot the lost portions. The gamble paid off, and it won the ‘Prize of the Ecumenical Jury’ at the ‘Cannes Film Festival.’
The same year, he began working on the movie ‘The First Day.’ However, its production was interrupted by ‘Goskino,’ the Russian film-certifying agency. ‘Goskino’ stated that the original script submitted for approval before production was a lot different from the one that was actually under production.
The same year, he traveled to Italy and shot ‘Voyage in Time,’ a documentary based on his journeys to and within Italy.
In 1983, he completed the film ‘Nostalghia,’ which he also co-wrote. The movie won the ‘FIPRESCI Award’ and the ‘Prize of the Ecumenical Jury’ at the ‘Cannes Film Festival.’ However, the Soviet authorities did not let the film win the ‘Palme d’Or.’ Upset with the treatment meted out to him by the Soviet authorities, he declared he would never return to the U.S.S.R.
The same year, he staged the opera ‘Boris Godunov’ at the ‘Royal Opera House’ in London, England.
His last film,‘The Sacrifice,’ which he wrote and directed, was released in 1986. The movie won the ‘Grand Prix Special du Jury,’ the ‘Prize of the Ecumenical Jury,’ and the ‘FIPRESCI Prize’ at the ‘Cannes Film Festival.’ It was also nominated for the ‘Palme d’Or.’ The prizes were collected by his son, as he was under medical care for lung cancer during that time.
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‘Sculpting In Time,’ a book authored by him, dealt with art and cinema and was primarily inspired by his experiences.
Family & Personal Life
Andrei married Irma Raush, his classmate at ‘VGIK,’ in April 1957. Their son, Arseny Tarkovsky, was born on September 30, 1962.
Irma acted in ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ and ‘Andrei Rublev.’ However, the couple legally separated in June 1970.
He then married Larisa Tarkovskaya, a Russian actor, in 1970. He had been living in with her since 1965. She worked as a production assistant on the sets of ‘Andrei Rublev.’
She was a divorcee and had a daughter, Olga Kizilova, from her earlier marriage. Olga grew up to be an actor.
Andrei and Larisa had a son, Andrei Andreyevich Tarkovsky, born on August 7, 1970.
She worked with Andrei as his assistant director in the movies ‘Solaris,’ ‘Mirror,’ ‘Stalker,’ and ‘Nostalghia.’ She also appeared in ‘Mirror.’
He maintained a diary, which is now known as the ‘Martyrolog.’
Illness & Death
In late 1985, Andrei was diagnosed with lung cancer. In January the following year, he started his treatment in Paris, France.
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He breathed his last on December 29, 1986. His last rites were held at the ‘Alexander Nevsky Cathedral’ in Paris. He remains buried at the ‘Russian Cemetry,’ Sainte- Genevieve-des-Bois, a suburb of Paris.
The inscription on his gravestone reads: “To the man who saw the Angel.”
Unconfirmed sources claimed that his death had been orchestrated by the ‘K.G.B.,’ the secret police of the Soviet Union.
Interestingly, his wife, Larisa, and actor Anatoly Solonitsyn succumbed to a similar type of lung cancer. Hence, some believe their illness was due to their exposure to a chemical factory during the production of ‘Stalker.’
The U.S.S.R. expressed its regret that Andrei had to spend the last years of his life in exile. A retrospective of his movies was held just before his death in 1986.
The ‘Andrei Tarkovsky Memorial Prize’ was instituted in 1989.
He was honored with the ‘Lenin Prize,’ posthumously, in 1990.
A museum in his name was inaugurated in Yuryevets in 1996.
The entrance of the ‘Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography’ has been adorned with his statue.
A minor planet has been named after him.
A stamp was released in his memory.
He has been the subject of a lot of documentaries.
He has been praised as one of the greatest moviemakers by highly acclaimed film directors and film historians.