Childhood is supposed to be idyllic but that does not apply for the eponymous protagonist of Andrei Tarkovsky's first feature film. Twelve year old orphan, Ivan, joins the partisans to avenge his family's death at the hands of the Nazis. His ability to slip through enemy lines more easily than an adult is useful to the forces and he resists attempts to remove him from the front.
'Ivan's Childhood' is shot in black and white which was Tarkovsky's preferred form, although much of his later work was in colour. Light is used to create images of breathtaking clarity such as the opening dream of happier times with Ivan floating through the sky or a dizzying scene in which Masha, a military doctor, swirls around trees. Cutting to the sound of gunfire is a startling juxtaposition. His poetic visuals make every shot the equivalent of watching a painting in motion but there are occasional explosions and the dream sequence using music, bells and screams to enhance the images is far more terrifying than any horror flick. The story follows more of a linear pattern, apart from the dream sequences, than Tarkovsky's other films; even his customary insertion of newsreel footage fits appropriately.
The influence of Ingmar Bergman and Italian neorealists such as Roberto Rossellini is apparent. Few modern directors are producing work of such measured pace and contemplative tone, perhaps Theo Angelopoulos and Alexsandr Sokurov might merit comparison. Tarkovsky, though, had a singular vision and 'Ivan's Childhood' is an ideal introduction to his distinctive work.