Stalker ★★★★★

My Top 100 Favorite Films - #9

Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker is a film about the titular Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) a man who guides people to a place known as "the Zone", which you can only access after escaping a military blockade. The Stalker's job is to get people to a room that is said to fulfill all of one's wishes. He is hired by a Professor (Nikolai Grinko) and a Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) who both want to enter this room, each with their own wishes and purposes.

In trademark Tarkovsky fashion, this is a film that patiently establishes its story, themes and characters at a slow pace, and with many long takes. To me, it works efficiently, and in a fantastic manner, because it allowed me to get a better understanding of our main characters, the film's setting, and the themes, which were all carried out with a great sense of subtlety and restraint. There are no overblown moments or grand gestures to exalt some "universal truth" about the human condition; it just shows us the complexities of the human condition in a rather straightforward manner. It manages to do what many other films struggle with, in that it shows and explores the ambiguities of society, and of individual desires, in a way that feels intelligent, but never overexpository or cryptic. In fact, the few moments of exposition we get are kept mercifully short and sweet, and despite the minimal amount of dialogue, I always had a great understanding of what it was that drove our characters to their actions. I can only adore the simple, yet ironically complex execution of the thematic depth found within this film.

It's not just the themes, story and characters that are fantastically done here. The cinematography is absolutely amazing. From the use of sepia-toned imagery, to the colorful landscapes of the Zone, along with a great use of contrasts between light and shadow, the visuals beautifully complement the ambiguous nature of the story and themes at hand. The use of long takes, slow zoom-outs and the displays of confined rooms further enhanced the despair and hopelessness that our characters face throughout the film. The technical aspects brilliantly mesh together with the direction and writing to show us that the style is just as essential to the substance, as the thinking behind the subject matter is.

Stalker is an absolutely brilliant film, and easily my favorite of the three Tarkovsky films I have seen so far. With the high bar set by this film, I have high hopes for the rest of his filmography. I highly recommend it, even though I can understand why some might get turned off by Tarkovsky's patient style of filmmaking.

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