Tarkovsky And The Revenant – Homage, And Beyond.

by Serge Rakhlin February 18, 2016

A scene from The Revenant and one from Ivan's Childhood, part of Misha Petric's short The Revenant By Tarkovsky.

After Russian documentarian Misha Petric made a short video compilation The Revenant By Tarkovsky which cuts together 17 the similarly looking scenes from The Revenant and from selected films by the late Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky - such as Andrei Rublev, Ivan’s Childhood, Mirror, Nostalgia and The Sacrifice - social media was flooded with enormous amount of commentary. Some of them accused Alejandro González Iñarritu, director of the three-time Golden Globe winner, of outright stealing from Tarkovsky.

But the serious Russian and international film critics and specialists in cinema history are united in the opinion that all we see here is an artistic influence which Iñarritu gladly admits, as well as a cinematic homage to the great Tarkovsky, which is common in cinema.

Indeed, many scenes of The Revenant are reminiscent, in composition and rhythm, of a scenes from Tarkovsky's films, which gave the incentive to many "self-proclaimed" critics to accuse Iñarritu of plagiarism, and in the mildest comments, just of “direct borrowing” from the Russian master filmmaker.

Fortunately, in the major Russian media and social networks a good amount of very reasonable comments surfaced, directly or indirectly rejecting accusations that one master – Iñarritu – plagiarized another - Tarkovsky. Professional critics and film scholars, as well as fellow filmmakers, correctly observed that Iñarritu did not "steal from Tarkovsky", but paid tribute to him with a clear and passionate homage.

In his many interviews Iñárritu admits Tarkovsky’s influence on him. In an interview with the influential cinema art magazine Film Comment Iñarritu says: "…Andrei Rublev is maybe my favorite film ever". To us the director said: "I remember, the first time I saw a Tarkovsky film, I was shocked by it. I did not know what to do. I was shocked by it. I was fascinated, because suddenly I realized that film could have so many more layers to it than what I had imagined before”. Incidentally, Iñárritu also recognizes the influence of another master of Russian cinema Mikhail Kalatozov (Palm d’Or winner in 1957 for The Cranes Are Flying), especially with his less known film Unsent Letter.

The practice of homage is nothing new in film, but rather a good tradition. It is interesting that the great Hitchcock has begun to be quoted while still alive. Just after 4 years after the release of Hichcock’s North by Northwest the scene whith the low-flying aircraft pursuing a man was almost literally reproduced in an early Bond film, From Russia with Love directed by Terence Young.

Other instances of cinematic homage are very easy to find. For example, the “notorious” Danish director Lars von Trier’s Antichrist has an abundance parallels and references to Tarkovsky especially his Mirror – many more, in fact,than Iñárritu in The Revenant. Von Trier even dedicated his film to Andrei Tarkovsky.

If you are to disassemble to the bones films by “neo-classic” Quentin Tarantino, there are a quote after quote (or call it homage!) from other films. Especially interesting in this regard is Tarantino's Kill Bill. There are very noticeable referrals to the Hitchcock's Psycho and to the very popular 1970s television series Kung Fu, starring… Kill Bill’s David Carradine. And Tarantino's latest film The Hateful Eight is full of allusions to the westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone.

Woody Allen has always declared his love for the films of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman – and in fact there are amazing similarities between Allen’s New York comedies and Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Scenes from a Marriage.

Back to Russians. The famous scene on the Odessa steps from the classic film Battleship Potemkin by Russian director Sergei Eisenstein was almost literally reproduced by director Brian De Palma in his gangster drama The Untouchables. In fact, the rolling stroller going down a flight of steps carrying a child with no a mother in sight appears , in different iterations, in a number of other films., among them Sunstroke, a recent film by Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov which was selected as Russia’s 2014 Oscar entry in the Foreign Language film category.

And just as I write this another, much less convincing compilation - Mad Max: Fury Road by Tarkovsky - hits You Tube. What’s next?