Combustible Celluloid
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With: Aleksandr Kajdanovsky, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko, Alisa Frejndlikh, Natasha Abramova
Written by: Arkadi Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, based on their novel
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Russian with English subtitles
Running Time: 163
Date: 01/08/1979

Stalker (1979)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Zoning Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After Solaris (1972), the famous Russian master filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky dabbled in science fiction once more with Stalker, an even more ambiguous and intelligent film.

While Solaris was set in the claustrophobic, cluttered boredom of a spaceship, Stalker takes place mainly in The Zone, a mysterious area reportedly created by a meteorite, although many believe it is the result of something Divine. The Stalker (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky) leads two men into The Zone, a Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and a Scientist (Nikolai Grinko). Tarkovsky shoots the real world in a kind of dingy, sepia-toned black-and-white, while the Zone is in color, green with overcast qualities. The Stalker is the only one who can navigate the complex Zone. Although it looks like a bunch of green fields and streams, occasionally cluttered with rusted junk and boulders, it's apparently very elusive and dangerous.

The landscape changes, travelers must always take indirect routes and can never return the way they came. At the center of the Zone is a room, in which one's innermost wish comes true. Each man has his own personal agenda for venturing into the Zone, and these issues come out elliptically during the trip.

Stalker can be slow-going -- at one point the characters even lie down and go to sleep -- but it's never less than fascinating and hugely rewarding. I found the overall atmosphere, benign but potentially dangerous, far more stimulating and imaginative than a sci-fi story entirely spelled out for us. (It constantly anticipates, but hardly ever delivers.) Moreover, Stalker has not aged in the slightest, and is just as masterful today as it was in 1979. Alisa Frejndlikh co-stars as the stalker's wife, who doesn't want him to go, and Natasha Abramova plays their deformed daughter.

DVD Details: Long unavailable on DVD, Kino has finally released this masterpiece in a two-disc set. The 163-minute movie is divided into two sections on the first disc. After an hour, the timer re-sets itself and moves on to the second part. The transfer shows evidence of flutter and scratches from time to time, but these are minor. Viewers can select menus and subtitles in French or English. Interestingly, there's a dubbed version, but it consists of actors narrating the dialogue over the Russian-language track. The second disc comes with interviews, filmographies, photos and other featurettes. The set also includes a five-minute excerpt from Tarkovsky's 45-minute student film The Steamroller and the Violin, which was released in its entirety on DVD several years ago by Facets.

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