Must-See Cinema! On loan from the U.S., a rare 35mm print of Tarkovsky's mind-bending masterpiece!
Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s space-age epic Solaris, now restored to its original 167 minutes, is the third feature in Tarkovsky’s brief, shining career. An extended, cinematic poem, Solaris transforms the elements of Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel into a Tolstoy-influenced religious treatise on the human race. The film, which won the 1972 Cannes Special Jury Prize, is a series of encounters between humans and their fears, fantasies and faith – or lack thereof. This is not your high-budget ray-gun clash between space voyagers and slime-covered monsters.
Sometime in the unspecified future, a central committee dispatches psychologist and cosmonaut Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) to investigate strange occurences on the remote planet Solaris. Going aboard Solaris’s orbiting space station, Kelvin meets two resident scientists, who keep themselves closeted in their laboratories and evade questions. Kelvin also discovers that the third scientist has committed suicide and has left a videotape explaining his actions.
Kelvin’s investigation ultimately leads to Solaris itself, a planet with mysterious properties, among them the ability to conjure up spirits from the past. He discovers this poignantly when a corporeal facsimile of his ex-wife (Natalya Bondarchuk), who committed suicide several years ago, comes to him. Kelvin’s fact-finding mission breaks down as he surrealistically relives a troubled past and also discovers some disturbing but edifying truths about humanity along the way.
Tarkovsky doesn’t script so much as paint and compose; his work is a collection of living paintings, or visual symphonies, rather than narrative movies. Though Solaris is one of the late director’s most plot-coherent and accessible films, its plot is still a mere conduit for mood, atmosphere and philosophy.
With cinematographer Vadim Yusov’s deft eye, Tarkovsky also creates some incredible images, such as the opening shot, in which underwater reeds undulate with such hypnotic grace that they seem to be directed, or the breathtaking shots of the surface of Solaris. His pictures, and his sounds – such as the symphonic drip of raindrops in a wooded pond – tell more than just the immediate story; they rejuvenate the mind. Compared to recent releases of three-ring-circus subtlety, that’s not just a great relief, it’s vital.
– Desson Howe, The Washington Post