DVD Review – Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

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Ivan's Childhood

Ivan is a 12 year old child who is part of an army unit. After he is pulled from duty he protests, mainly due to the fact he is determined to take revenge on the nazis who killed his family.

Now I’ll admit, this isn’t the film I usually go for. I haven’t really delved into Russian cinema before so this would be an interesting way to test the water.

Thank god I did, I absolutely love…well, maybe loved is the wrong word, appreciated would be better. The first thing I noticed was Tarkovsky’s mastering of light and, more importantly, shadow. He knows exactly how to frame the image as to make use of the light and the darkness and how to contrast the two. Quite a lot of the film is dark and every now and again a face will come into a beam of light shining into the scene. I noticed the same techniques with the early films of Stanley Kubrick, especially Paths of Glory and Fear & Desire. The fact that Kieślowski and Bergman cite the film and Tarkovsky as an influence speaks volumes.

The sound design is very important to him as well. There is a scene, just 2 people talking in a forest, very benign, calm scene, every now and again a woodpecker pecks at a tree, almost like gunfire. Near the end of the film there is another scene, again, just 2 people in a boat. A dark, tense scene, almost silent, bar some music, every now and again we hear some gunfire. 2 similar scenes, yet complete polar opposites.

The performance by Nikolai Burlyayev is nothing short of revelatory, I was quite taken aback by how nuanced it was, very understated yet hit all the beats he needed to. Even you see him before the war, then during, you see how it has changed him. Child actors today could take lessons from this kid.

I like the fact that not much war scenes are in the film, the horrors of war are much deeper than just seeing bloody violence and dead bodies. Scenes in the film show that Ivan IS a child, he used to run along the beach with his sister, play with his friends, learn from his mother. Then war took that all away from him, forced him to be an adult…at 12 years old. And THAT, I think, is the greatest horror of all.

Peter Fletcher

War, Drama | Russia, 1962 | PG | Curzon Artificial Eye Film | 27th June 2016 (UK) |Dir.Andrei Tarkovsky| Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy Zharikov |Buy:[DVD]