Nothing beats an early Monday morning quite like a depressing debut from Andrei Tarkovsky. It feels only fair that my first time experiencing any work from Tarkovsky comes at a time when I am looking to expand into new directors that may have missed me, in a time before I became obsessed with film. Tarkovsky may best be remembered for his work in Stalker or Andrei Rublev, but his debut feature, Ivan’s Childhood, is a true masterpiece. A showcase that brings us the greatest hits of a director that will undoubtably become a favourite of mine.
The story follows that of Ivan, an orphan who finds himself wading his way into Allied territory near the end of the Second World War. There, he tries to fall into the ranks of soldiers, willing to do what he can to win the war that killed his parents. Nikolay Burlyaev gives an incredible performance here as the titular Ivan. His prevalence and abilities as a performer make this a real treat to behold. It’s not foten that a child actor can really give us an incredible performance, so it’s nice to see that Burlyaev can compete with those around him, making the most of his on-screen time.
Ivan’s Childhood reminds me quite a lot of The Cranes are Flying, a similarly bleak war film to come out of the post-war period of Eastern Europe. Focusing more on the depressing realism and the people that suffered through the war, rather than the overall victories to be had, this sub-genre of the war film is a tremendous gift that captures post-war stresses in significantly interesting fashion. Specifically that of Ivan’s Childhood, which looks to explore more the preservation of youth, rather than that of the gritty front lines or the impact it has on the people at home. It finds its uneasy middleground in a river that divides safety and danger, and Tarkovsky is a master at bringing this balance to the forefront.
The influence that Ivan’s Childhood has had on some of the world’s greatest directors, from Ingmar Bergman to Krzysztof Kieślowski is paramount to the success of some of the best foreign drama pieces to hit fans of cinema. Ivan’s Childhood is an early pillar of a successful series of films from an acclaimed director, but it also provides us with insight into how such a great film has influenced films to come later. A real enjoyable piece that has aged perfectly well, with beautiful cinematography and camera work, alongside a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit basic storyline.