Monday, July 11, 2011

Fantasia 2007: Stalker

The 2011 Fantasia Film Festival announced their line-up on July 7th. Fantasia, is of course, my favourite film festival in the whole world... other than the one that pays my salary obviously.

Fantasia 2011
I intend to put up a list of what films I plan to attend at Fantasia - probably tomorrow once I pick up my tickets.

Until then, here is another of my old unpublished Fantasia reviews. This time from Fantasia 2007.


Stalker (1979) Soviet Union imdb Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, Written by Arkadiy and Boris Strugatskiy (and Andrei Tarkovsky), Based on the novel by Arkadiy and Boris Strugatskiy

Stalker Poster
At the risk of bringing down on my head the wrath of the FILM ELITE~! Let me just say that I have tremendously mixed feelings about this film. It is a like an incredibly beautiful woman who is a total cock-tease, because this film keeps promising and promising and then nothing happens and then it gets you all worked up again and again nothing happens. It's like a roller-coaster that keeps climbing the hill but never drops you back down again.

Visually it is stunning. Especially because the film is shot on a limited canvas, but no one who has ever shot in these dimensions has ever filled the screen the way that Tarkovsky does. He adds to his difficulty level even more by shooting many of the scenes through doorways and archways and tunnels, artificially shortening his already smaller canvas, but he shoots with the eye of a painter filling the oddest spaces with stunning content. The artificially constrained screen also creates a sense of claustrophobia and menace that pervades the entire film.

The film is about a place called the Zone which may have been created by a meteor strike or by UFOs or by the Soviet government. The Stalker of the title guides people into the Zone past the Soviet military and through the death-traps that supposedly litter the Zone. At the middle of the Zone is a room which according to rumour grants the secret desire of those who enter it.

The Stalker in Sepia
The film opens in a weird sort of sepia colouring, suspended almost perfectly between black and white and colour. The story goes that when Tarkovsky was set to film Stalker his European distributor sent him the newest, best Kodak film available. Various stories have circulated about what happened next. Some say that the Soviet film technicians treated the fragile film the way that they treated all film and ruined the film, some say that the film sat too long untreated, Tarkovsky's theory was that the technicians did their jobs properly, but that his film was ruined because a jealous competitor stole the new film and swapped in the old regular film, so when the technicians used the new methods on the old film, it ruined the film.

In the Zone
I am guessing that the sepia coloured film is the "ruined" film. (Tarkovsky had to go back and reshoot the film almost entirely.) This gives the opening sequence an ethereal almost dream-like state, heightened in my case by the fact that I was so tired going into the film that I was nodding off through most of the opening sequence as the Stalker guides the writer named the Writer and the professor named the Professor into the Zone. When they arrive in the Zone the transition is marked by an explosion of colour mostly of green. It is as though everything outside the Zone is unreal and it is only in the Zone that things are not a dream.

Trapped in the Zone
This sense is heightened by the fact that the sepia film returns twice more: once when the three men take an odd nap inside the Zone in a scene which plays out as if one of the Zone's death-traps is finally going off, and then at the end. Oddly at the end the old footage is mixed in with the new, and in a strange way. The new coloured footage is used whenever the Stalker's crippled daughter Monkey is awake and in the picture. We are told that Monkey was crippled by her exposure to the Zone at an early age. The film seems to imply with the use of the footage that Monkey may be crippled, but she seems to carry around a piece of the Zone with her as partial compensation.

Heart of the Zone (1979)
The sleep/dream sequence is the crux of my whole issue with the film. All through the trip through the Zone, we are teased by the Zone's deadly nature, and the odd glimpses of corpses, old, old skeletons becoming part of the landscape, confirms that there is real danger, but just when it seems like they have set off one of the traps, the film grinds to a halt and quite literally nothing happens because the three men go to sleep. It's like Tarkovsky is playing with the viewer, giving them what they want and then taunting them because having got it, they no longer want it anymore.

Heart of the Irradiated Zone: Pripyat Ukraine after Chernobyl
French Stalker Poster
It is visually stunning and incredibly influential (Every post-apocalyptic film afterwards borrows its visual cues from this film or from a film that swiped it from here first.) the acting is great, the dialogue is good enough that it makes you want to learn some Russian to understand it better, and I can appreciate that the man was working in a system where it was better to make films that were symbolic and obscure, because what your masters could not understand they could not punish you for. (Sure are a lot of religious allusions and talk for a Soviet film though.) And I can appreciate the way that the film predicts Chernobyl in a very eerie way.

All of that said, this film to me is like medicine. It is good for you, but I could do with some straight forward narrative with my allegory, please.

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