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on 28 June 2016
This is the first of Artificial Eye’s complete Tarkovsky feature films on blu-ray for the Region B market. It’s a very good start, coming as it does with a handsome booklet and a variety of extras, including, I’m very glad to say, all the interviews included on AE’s original DVD issue: actor Evgeniy Zharikov, DoP Vadim Usov, and composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, all of which were shamefully excluded from AE’s second edition of this film. These interviews are a fascinating insight into Tarkovsky’s work and method, the political climate in the USSR at the time of film production and exhibition, and are a huge remove from the “Hollywood” style of interview. I envy first-time viewers for the splendid experience they are about to have.

And of the film itself - well, other reviewers will tell you what the film is all about. Tarkovsky blu-ray enthusiasts will want to know if this is worth getting. I consider this to be a first-rate transfer, nice grain, contrast and definition, and definitely on a par with the Criterion edition.

Some of us have been waiting a long time for Tarkovsky on Region B. If the rest of the set is is as good as this, our dreams have come true. Thank you, Curzon.
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on 16 April 2017
To the extent he had a childhood, Ivan’s was brutal. A child of war, his youth was stolen from him. At age 12 he was forced to fight by fate. But there was one saving grace — he was loved by his comrades and commanding officer, and thus shielded from the fiercest battles. He acted as a runner, dispatching vital intelligence.

He was also orphaned by the war, his father killed in it, his mother and sister murdered by it. The army is now his surrogate family.

To the extent it’s possible, a child should be made to feel welcome and happy in the world. But Ivan isn’t happy. In fact, he burns with rage and hatred, damaged by the savagery of the world. His squadron continues to advance. The year is 1943 and the Germans are being pushed back toward their homeland. The Russians come across abandoned German outposts. In one they find old German picture books. Ivan and a comrade leaf through the books. They look at Albrecht Dürer’s famous etching of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “Who is he?” Ivan asks, pointing at an etching of a German man. “He’s a writer,” the comrade says. Ivan replies:

“The Germans have no writers. I saw them burning books in the town square. They threw petrol on the books and burned them.”

Knowledge, learning, books — all loathsome things to be destroyed by the savages. The child’s imagination cannot fully comprehend, so to it the Germans are not human. Inhumane and inhuman, they came to Russia to destroy it and us. They killed my family. Now I want to kill them too. They deserve my wrath.

Of course Ivan looks doomed. There is talk of the war ending and Ivan being adopted by one of the officers. But even if he physically survives the war, how can he survive it emotionally? At night he escapes it in dreams, in sunny reveries of the past. It’s summer and he plays with other children along a beach. They run in the sand and into the waves. They splash and laugh. They are young and beautiful, pure and innocent. They are also lovely to look at.

Make-believe and reality form and inform the world of the child, the divide between them thin and porous. Sometimes with his mates in his dreams we see Ivan playing soldier games, hiding behind trees and shooting, their rifles sticks or branches found on the floor of the forest. Play and reality overlap. Even now, caught up in a real war with authentic battles and bullets, Ivan is sometimes at play. In one of the Russian dugouts he pretends to fight a German soldier. There is no soldier, only the uniform of a German soldier hung up on a wall. He shoots at it, making the sounds of a firing gun.

His dreams are also memories. In one he sits in a horse cart full of apples with three pretty girls. Their hair and faces and clothes are wet in the rain. But they laugh, happy to be riding in the rain with the apples. The sun breaks through. The rain ceases. Their clothes are dry as they reach a wide sandy beach. Some apples spill onto the beach and other horses will eat them. All is beautiful and peaceful — the summer sun, the wide beach, the happy children, the tasty apples. Life is good. Ivan remembers. In the dream he relives this goodness.

He also sees his mother, the one who loves him most. She doesn’t need to tell him this. He knows by seeing her face, watching her move, her body filled with the language of protective love.

But the war comes and changes everything.

This film may be about war, but it isn’t a war film. Or not like most war films. Shells burst and flares light up the night sky. But we see no pitched battles and hardly a German soldier. Mainly we see Russian dugouts and ditches, burned villages, rutted and muddy roads, birch forests, rivers and swamps. Nature still dominates the land. Man is small compared to it. His bombs explode and trees shake. But in the long run nature will win and survive. It is man, perhaps, who must go, this badly flawed creature that will destroy itself.

What the film is really about is lost childhood. Tarkovsky himself, the director of the film, wrote this in his film memoirs about Ivan:

“The personality of Ivan moved me to the bottom of my heart. He was a character that had been destroyed, shifted off its axis by the war. Something incalculable, all the attributes of childhood, had gone irretrievably out of his life. And the thing he had acquired, like an evil gift from the war, in place of what had been his own, was concentrated and heightened within him.”

Apart from Ivan, there is another character who personifies innocence — a young nurse named Masha. Tarkovsky writes insightfully of her too:

“She looked so naïve, pure, trusting that it was immediately clear that Masha was completely defenceless in the face of this war which was nothing to do with her. Vulnerability was the keynote of her nature and age.”

There is a famous scene in the film where Captain Kholin, a sympathetic officer who admires Masha’s beauty and innocence, lifts her across a deep ditch in the forest. He stands on both sides of the ditch, his long legs splayed, spanning it. He holds her aloft, suspended above the ditch and kisses her deeply on her mouth. She does not resist. Normally this would be erotic, sexual. But the look on Masha’s face after this happens is neither of these. It’s a look of being happily protected. The strong officer has held her, embraced her, kissed her. Such a man, she knows, is the reason Russia will be saved. She looks at him with admiration, not longing. She sees him with pride. How many film directors could have achieved this, and so subtly, wordlessly? It’s why Tarkovsky, in this his first feature film, was already a great auteur.

Masha is innocent, like Ivan, a person so undeserving of this war.

In a book called The Thunder Tree (1993) the author writes this of childhood:

“…a ditch somewhere — or a creek, meadow, woodlot, or marsh…These are places of initiation where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin…Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and fields, the woods and ravines can teach us to care for all the land.”

Ivan knows all this. He didn’t have to think or say it. He lived it as a boy. It made him who he was. He cared for the land, his family, friends, youth. He cared for his country and the life he had known. But the apocalypse came, as Albrecht Dürer said it would. It came and swallowed everything.

The film ends with the fall of Berlin. Russia has won the war. Soldiers drink and dance. Some are tossed in the air. Others sift through the soot and dust of burned-out buildings. Files and records are found. Not all the papers of the Third Reich were burned. Some gestapo dossiers are discovered. In one of them Ivan’s photo appears. He is dirty, tired, angry, defiant. He looks straight into the lens and seethes, mirroring the Nazi hatred back at itself, a perfect image of a perfect truth.

The white birch forests gleam in the sun after the rain. Nature carries on come what may, man’s madness now temporarily at an end. Youth and apple carts and pretty girls are gone. So is mother and the past. But Ivan lived and was real, and in the end we see him running again along a wet and sandy shore, his face beautiful in the summer sun. He chases a young girl with long brown hair. You think he will tackle her, roll in the sand with her when he catches up, but he does not. He passes her without looking and keeps on running — running as far up the beach as his legs will take him.
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on 24 May 2017
Excellent Russian film set during the second world war, the film starts with 12yrs old Ivan and his mother living in a beautiful forest, the sound of bird song an ideal childhood, suddenly Ivan's mother is shot dead and the film jumps to present day where we find Ivan working as a spy in the horrors of wa looking to avenge his mother, I think I have seen at least four different versions of this film according to how badly it has been cut, the longest I once saw on the tv late at night

My verdict, a must watch film
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on 22 July 2017
fantastic and recommended
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on 28 May 2017
A good product,
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on 18 June 2017
fantastic film, beautiful direction and cinematography
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on 27 April 2010
Ivan (Nikolay Burlyaev) may be a tad less naive, but there's undeniably something of Come and See's Florya in his anger and his resourcefulness. Like Elem Klimov's devastating classic, there's a mouldy, naturalistic bleakness about Ivan's Childhood that does nothing to brighten the horror of World War II. Using a fractured narrative structure, Andrei Tarkovsky's first feature film concerns the titular orphan and his experiences as a scout on the Soviet Eastern Front.

The film sidesteps the potential sentimentality of its premise (a definite risk given the presence of prominent father and brother figures) by using the situation to ask greater questions about the nature of war. When Ivan throws a tantrum when he's told by his commander that he's going to military school instead of the Front, we naturally question the boy's moral maturity, and his limited understanding of the hypocrisies and complexities of why men fight. And yet, by observing events unfold from Ivan's perspective, aren't we being made to ask such questions of ourselves? Do we really know better than him? With his family gone, and with his youthful eagerness and wanderlust, and his simple smallness, Ivan is more than qualified for his desired role. Hasn't he earned it?

Fans of Solaris will instantly recognise Tarkovsky's ability to find the image that best depicts his characters' psychological state, without recourse to melodrama. "Actors" need not apply. Tarkovsky's eye is so exacting, so demanding, that it's like we're looking through some kind of x-ray vision, trained on the soul. And what soul there is to Tarkovsky: the last frames are the equal of those which close his elegiac science-fiction masterpiece.

If ever one needs convincing of the difference between film as art and film as entertainment, perhaps Tarkovsky should be the first port of call. Not simply because a film like Ivan's Childhood (a perfect title, by the way) is so multi-layered, metaphorical, psychologically complex, eerie, strange and moving - but because all those ARTISTIC elements combine to form a highly ENTERTAINING film, thus making a nonsense of the notion that European "art" film exists to be admired but not enjoyed. Few film-makers can claim to have exploded such distinctions.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 April 2010
Andrei Tarkovsky was already thirty years' old when he completed his first full-length feature, `Ivan's Childhood', in 1962. It is probably the most accessible of his seven films, telling the story of a young Russian boy who acts as a scout to the Red Army as it repulses the forces of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Within the first three minutes there are already exemplary shots worthy of notice and praise, as it opens with a dreamy childlike pastorale. Witness the boy's birdlike imaginary descent to the ground, and the lonely windmill amidst the cut corn and the smoky sky. `Ivan's Childhood' may have been Tarkovsky's first film, but it already possesses many of his signature features. These include four dreamlike sequences that provide an idyllic pre-war contrast to the hell that has become the Russian Front, where ruin - both physical and emotional - is never far away.

The transitions between the dreams and the war scenes are expertly handled, but actually the war is never witnessed at first hand; Tarkovsky cleverly keeps its presence ubiquitous but relegates it to a background feature. For this is a film of mists and shadows; and of water, dripping water, another Tarkovskian trope. The director's equally well-known engagement with art is expressed through Durer's engraving of `The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse'. Ivan sees it in a book and points: "Look at this skinny one on a horse. I saw one just like him on a motorcycle. Look, they're killing the people here too."

Tarkovsky has a fine eye for landscape, evinced for instance in the marshes close to the riverbank that separates the German and the Russian forces. Meanwhile, a subplot takes us into a birch forest that seems to possess an eerie malevolent magic, as a young lieutenant called Masha copes with the jealousies aroused by her male suitors.

Ivan is an extremely precocious twelve-year-old, played by Nikolai Burlyaev, but Ivan's experiences in war have forced him to grow up fast. He is fearless, vengeful, and proud. This is a subtle film in its realism; Ivan is a hero, yes, but it's not a question of simple black and white, and the film is by no means a Soviet propaganda piece. The mission that Ivan undertakes is itself not really important. Indeed, it is striking for its very ambiguity and occupies barely twenty minutes of the film. And neither is this a maudlin film, its tragic ending being superbly handled. (It is notable that it features a dead but still upstanding tree at the water's edge - a vision that appears at the very end of Tarkovsky's final film twenty-four years later.)

Artificial Eye's presentations of all seven of Tarkovsky's movies come packed with extras. This one is no exception. As well as the usual filmographies and photos, there is an eighteen-minute Soviet film called `Children of War' about those boys and girls who served in what the Russians call The Great Patriotic War. Then there are modern interviews with three artists involved in the making of the film. Firstly, we have Evgeny Zharikov, who played Lieutenant Galtsov in the movie, who has much of interest to say over eighteen minutes about the film; secondly, composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, talking for thirty-three minutes, but mostly of the work he did for other films and directors; and thirdly, the cameraman Vadim Yusov, who speaks for thirty-three minutes. This can all be hard-going with all the subtitles and monotonous voices, but much nevertheless is revealed about the production and the man. With a five-minute excerpt of Tarkovsky's graduation film, `The Steamroller and the Violin', this is a handsome package.
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on 1 July 2000
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.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 12 December 2006
Ivan's Childhood often amazes with the fluidity of its camerawork, its wonderful use of sound and its matter of fact depiction of war - not the moments of combat that make up only a tiny part of the experience, but the moments between, where people try to catch whatever they can, be it love, hope, memories or just sleep. It's a simple tale extraordinarily well told, and if the sudden leap in chronology at the end is jarring, the result is nonetheless very moving. Even the fantasy/memory scenes of a nature more vivid that the burnt out husk or swamps of war are beautifully handled, and it's easy to see this being a major influence on Spielberg's most underrated film, Empire of the Sun.

Very impressive indeed, it's a surprise to learn from the DVD that the film was shot on an ultra-low budget because another director and cast had used up half the budget before their version was scrubbed, only for Kruschev's disapproval to limit the film's Russian release while it was conquering the arthouses worldwide.
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