My new piece is tightly connected with Andrei Tarkovsky's sixth major film Nostalgia (1983). The film marks his departure from his Russian homeland and the transition into a complete foreign cultural surrounding, set in Italy. The shock of the Corona crisis had almost a comparable effect on me although I stayed at the same place. If I visit the nearby village and watch the scared, mask wearing crowd, I feel alienated from a world I once knew, a world that seems lost forever.
Nostalgia was in pre-production as far back as 1980, there is a recurrent theme throughout the film centered around the brithplace of the protagonist the Russian writer Andrei Gorchakov. The film is in actuality strongly autobiographic and it depicts the Tarkovky's family home near the village of Zavrazje where the cineast was born on a wooden kitchentable now 88 years ago.
In the openings scene we see Gorchakov as a young boy walking into the fields accompanied by three woman, his mother, grandmother and his great grandmother. In the final scene we see him sitting on the ground next to Tarkovsky's dog Dakus. In a long slow zoom-out (rarely used by Tarkovsky) we see an ingenious montage, placing the family home amids the ruines of a church. A beautiful visual surprise to wrap up a masterpiece. I found a youtube video explicitly showing the magical scenes (the video editor Botticellian Elegance used Sviatoslav Richter playing Bach, however well meant, I do not know if Tarkovsky would have appreciated this cutting of his work).
The village of Zavrazje, on the bank of the Volga, was later to become the bottom of the Gorky reservoir. Downstream in the Volga, the Nizhny Novgorod dam was built by decree of Stalin himself. Zavrazje and the surrounding lands were sacrificed to progress, including the nineteenth-century wooden house of the Tarkovskys. Hydropower formed a crucial part in the development of the Soviet Union as a world economic power. Stalin's 'five-year plans' involved the "electrification" of the entire Soviet Union. It was deemed essential that especially the hinterlands were supplied with electricity to curb the "backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease and barbarism" that were supposed to be rampant there.
The birth ground of Tarkovsky drowned during the development of the Soviet Union. Eradication of the peasant mentality symbolized by the Ilyich lamp above the table, a bare electric pear named after Lenin. The light bulb as a measure of progress. It made me think of the attributes that Albrecht Dürer brought together in his Melencolia I standing at the hinge between the dark medieval mentality and the rationality of the enlightenment. All these elements come together in my Melancholy Machine dear reader. Dürer's polyhedron seems to descend from the sky like a huge concrete block, the farms by the river, the sloping pastures, I can almost hear the new machine rumbling.