Back in 1972, world-renowned director Andrei Tarkovsky sat down with film critic Leonid Kozlov around the same time as the release of his 5th feature film Solaris and was asked to share his top ten favorite film. With great intention and thought, the legendary filmmaker jotted down on a piece of paper the films that, sure, he probably enjoyed and learned a lot from, but considering the artist and film philosopher Tarkovsky was, had done more to contribute to the art of cinema as a whole.
It seems as though a top ten list from Tarkovsky would be all the film school you could ever need -- ever. The director's cinematic motivations were guided by his philosophy on art. Film was a much bigger thing than beautiful aesthetics and entertaining storytelling. Film was a way to reconcile living amidst (and consisting of) imperfection and the beauty and wonder of life. The part where they meet is what Tarkovsky defined as art -- it was the reason he gave for art existing: to create harmony in a dissonant world.
Kozlov describes the meeting with Tarkovsky in his article:
It was at this point that I asked Tarkovsky if he would compile a list of his favorite ten or so films. He took my proposition very seriously and for a few minutes sat deep in thought with his head bent over a piece of paper. Then he began to write down a list of directors’ names - Buñuel, Mizoguchi, Bergman, Bresson, Kurosawa, Antonioni, Vigo. One more, Dreyer, followed after a pause. Next he made a list of films and put them carefully in a numbered order. The list, it seemed, was ready, but suddenly and unexpectedly Tarkovsky added another title - City Lights.
Take a look at Tarkovsky's top ten list below:
- Le Journal d’un curé de campagne (Robert Bresson, 1951)
- Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
- Nazarin (Luis Buñuel, 1959)
- Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
- City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
- Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
- Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
- Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
- Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)
- Woman of the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)
The article written by Kozlov about the exchange with Tarkovsky was reprinted in a section on the University of Calgary's website entitled Nostalghia, which is dedicated to the director. You should definitely take a minute to read it in its entirety (here's an image of the actual printed article), because Kozlov is able to read into the seemingly straightforward nature of top ten lists written by filmmakers. It's easy to immediately assume that Tarkovsky includes the titles he does simply because they entertained, inspired, and instructed him. However, Kozlov proposes something more:
Like the numerous top ten lists submitted by directors to various magazines over the years, Tarkovsky's list is highly revealing. Its main feature is the severity of its choice - with the exception of City Lights, it does not contain a single silent film or any from the 30s or 40s.
The reason for this is simply that Tarkovsky saw the cinema's first 50 years as a prelude to what he considered to be real film-making. And though he rated highly both Dovzhenko and Barnet, the complete absence of Soviet films from his list is perhaps indicative of the fact that he saw real film-making as something that went on elsewhere. When considering this point, one also needs to bear in mind the polemical attitude that Tarkovsky became imbued with through his experience as a film-maker in the Soviet Union.
For Tarkovsky, the question lay not in how beautiful a film-maker's art can be, but in the heights that Art can reach.
If you're itching to learn more about the films that touched Tarkovsky, MUBI has shared a bunch of titles that the director had mentioned he admired in different publications and interviews. You can check out that list here.
What do you think Tarkovsky's top ten list says about him as a filmmaker?