Saturday, 24 December 2011

Of time and discovery

Tarkovsky's films are, as everybody knows, about time. What time? The time it takes to wait, to take something in, to wait for something to appear because there is no telling when it might. Better yet: the time it takes for the character and the viewer to understand that what they are waiting for has changed between the beginning of a shot and the end. The time it takes to move from a character (i.e. a variable) to a landscape (i.e. a thought), to let the viewer take in the landscape (whether a meadow or a cathedral), and to move back to the character taking in the landscape as a new element in his (rarely her) problem. Which is why his camera movements are rarely about mapping out a space, and often about revealing a character's discovery of a space. And the difference between revealing (the work of the camera) and discovering (the work of the character) is the difference between looking at a character and looking with a character. In Tarkovsky's films, the camera is in almost complete control, and its work is to seize the instant of discovery, of understanding, of appearance. A camera slowly overtakes a character, pushing him out the right side of the frame, only to let him reappear on the left side of the frame at the end of the camera movement. What has changed? The character has now seen. Seen what? That is the question at the centre of every single one of Tarkovsky's films.