on the new dvd of andrei tar- kovsky's science fiction "classic," Solaris, there's a half-hour interview with veteran actor and director Natalya Bondarchuk, who notes that Tarkovsky had trouble with the cultural apparatchiks because the film's about eternity, and the former Soviet Union did not acknowledge eternity.Imagine a Hollywood movie getting in trouble with its Motion Pictures Association of America rating over something like that. I mean, we live in a world where a minor controversy centres on a couple of fleeting shots of George Clooney's butt in Steven Soderbergh's new adaptation of Solaris.
Watching both versions (OK, trying to watch both versions) of Solaris (the original isn't just about eternity, but feels like eternity -- almost three hours in the hands of a director whose style is intense but leisurely), I was struck by the difference between the two. Soderbergh is a very audience-friendly director. His most demanding films are The Limey and Out Of Sight, which have scrambled timelines. Tarkovsky, on the other hand, asks things of audiences that they may not be prepared to give.
He looked at Solaris and saw a story that poses enormous questions about space and death. Of course, Tarkovsky could look at moss and see enormous questions. A mystic with an attachment to the Russian earth and the concept of time returning, he preferred questions to answers.
I quite like Tarkovsky, particularly Stalker, Ivan's Childhood and Nostalghia. But I've never developed the necessary patience for Solaris -- even in a transfer as beautiful as the one Criterion has managed for the forthcoming DVD and with the assistance of some excellent supplemental material, including interviews with Bondarchuk and cinematographer Vadim Yusov.
Soderbergh looks at Solaris and sees a love story, which is fair enough, but why go halfway across the galaxy to tell it? People jumping from Tarkovsky to Soderbergh will note that the latter is more than an hour shorter and starts at about the 45-minute mark of the Russian film. Soderbergh is closer to the novel, which has no scenes on Earth and is set entirely on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Solaris has the ability to get inside its visitors' heads and provide them with what they've lost. Including suicidal wives.
Soderbergh is an intensely practical filmmaker -- he's a "how" director. But Solaris is a "why" story. Despite the excellent technical work of the crew and a very good George Clooney performance, the movie seems to be missing the point of the tale it's adapting.
On a higher plane of cinematic achievement, there are the films of Chris Marker at the Cinematheque. Marker has a reputation as a difficult director but isn't if you're willing to keep your brain engaged at all times.
Interested in everything, he produces documentaries, notebook films, cultural studies, political history. He's probably best known for the short La Jete (Monday, December 2, 6:30 pm, later adapted by Terry Gilliam as 12 Monkeys) and for Sans Soleil (Saturday, November 30, 6:30 pm; Sunday, December 1, 4:30 pm; Tuesday, December 3, 6:30 pm). The best film of the last 20 years or so, Sans Soleil is on one level an intellectual travel film about Japan, on another a meditation on living in a world where contradictory concepts of time coexist, which sounds more forbidding than fun, but isn't.
Marker is fascinated by things Russian, and the series screens his intriguing documentary on Tarkovsky, One Day In The Life Of Andrei Arsenevich (Tuesday, December 3, 8:30 pm), which includes scenes of Tarkovsky directing The Sacrifice. The Last Bolshevik (December 5, 8:45 pm), an epistolary film to Alexander Medvedkin, the director of Happiness (December 5, 6:30 pm) mourns the failure of Communism and celebrates the little-known (in the West) director of one of the loopiest comedies ever made in a totalitarian state.
Marker's fascination with Tarkovsky, who's also referenced in Sans Soleil, is one of the most interesting critical alliances in cinema. There are no two directors less alike: the mystic and the intellectual. For all Soderbergh's qualities as an entertainer, it's hard to imagine another director developing the intellectual interest in his films that Marker, and others, have in Tarkovsky's.
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS TO COME: WORKS BY CHRIS MARKER at Cinematheque Ontario, Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), from Friday (November 29) to December 5. $5.25-$9.60. For schedule, see Rep Cinemas, page 112. Rating: NNNNN
SOLARIS written and directed by Steven Soderbergh from the novel by Stanislaw Lem, produced by James Cameron, Rae Sanchini and Jon Landau, with George Clooney, Natascha McElhone and Jeremy Davies. 96 minutes. A Lightstorm production. A 20th Century Fox release. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 102. Rating: NN
SOLARIS directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, written by Tarkovsky and Fridrikh Gorenshtein from the novel by Stanislaw Lem, with Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis and Jüri Järvet. 167 minutes. A Mosfilm production. Criterion Collection DVD, release date November 26. $60. Rating: NNN