Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky once said, “If during my work I find that a shot or a take might resemble what has already been done by another great director, I modify the scene to prevent that from happening.”

Although the auteur only completed seven feature films, his singular cinematic style continues to inspire audiences.

Here are some ways Andrei Tarkovsky movies employ effective shot design.

Watch: How to Create a Shot List like Andrei Tarkovsky

Mastering the Shot List: Andrei Tarkovsky

Meditative Long Takes

Andrei Tarkovsky movies share the same attitude as many painters.

For Tarkovsky the screen, like a canvas, allows for infinite interpretations of the material.

By allowing scenes to play out, the viewer has the opportunity to reconsider the meaning of characters and environments.

As the filmmaker says, “A book read by a thousand different people, is a thousand different books.”

Take Solaris for instance.

The pace of Andrei Tarkovsky movies allows for greater moments of contemplation

Whether floating in a bedroom or a space station, characters never embody a single theme. 

Rather, as if handing over a ball of clay, Tarkovsky's directing style encourages the viewer to mold the narrative to fit their own ideas about existence.  


Layering The Scene

Although Andrei Tarkovsky movies can be deliberately paced, they always seek to intensify the emotions of the moment.

What helps in making both his characters and their environments more dynamic is the layering of elements within a shot.

Andrei Tarkovsky movies enhance basic scenes through layering

In The Mirror, not only is the room itself flooding and collapsing, but the walls are rotting, a fire burns on a stove and a mirror reflects the chaos.

Despite the diversity of objects and actions, Tarkovsky is able to make them cohere, and as a result, allows the environments to act as extensions of the characters themselves. 


Framing With Doorways

Doorways can be a means of escape or confinement, and Andrei Tarkovsky movies use that uncertainty to strengthen the scenes.

In Andrei Tarkovsky movies, doorways act as physical and emotional barriers

In Stalker, as the characters reach the subterranean area beneath the Zone, they must decide whether or not to continue through an ominous-looking doorway.

This is a dilemma that faces many characters in Andrei Tarkovsky movies, including Solaris. Do they remain in relative safety or venture into the unknown?

For Tarkovsky films the door, as with many of his set pieces,  is representative of the fears and complexities of the characters.

Going through a doorway in a Tarkovsky movie, one has to consider not only the physical ramifications but the emotional ones as well. 


The World According To Tarkovsky

At times it can appear as if Andrei Tarkovsky movies are made only for Andrei Tarkovsky. 

But the director’s willingness to invite viewers to render their own interpretations of the material is a testament to his generosity as a filmmaker.

The Solaris director once said, “Show the audience life, and they’ll find within themselves the means to assess and appreciate it.”

Ultimately it is the investigations of life within Andrei Tarkovsky films that lead to spellbinding storytelling.

Still curious? Learn more from these filmmakers about the importance of shot design.
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  • Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

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