Aug 2, 2013

Marian Rădulescu comments Elena Dulgheru's book "Tarkovsky. Film as a Prayer"

From the blog The One-Line Review Presents
Posted on May 11, 2009
The substantial book by Elena Dulgheru (Andrei Tarkovski - Filmul ca rugăciune) has a whole chapter dedicated to the way the Russian film director approaches the recurrent theme of hominess. The chapter is called „The Taboric space of the home”. The main theme in Stalker is the epiphany of experiencing the Sacredness. Yet, this is no easy task – even more so in our multicultural age - to speak about the Sacredness, about its topography and about „the place where man meets God” (Which God? Which meeting?).

In the Christian tradition, according to the Gospel, The Mount Tabor represents, doesn’t it, the place where Christ has revealed himself to his Apostles (Peter, James and John) as well as to the Just of the „Old Covenant” (Moses and Elijah) – the presence of the latter ones signifying the continuity between the two "paradigms". The above mentioned episode is also called Transfiguration – the place where man feels like shouting (as in Goethe’s Faust: "Verweille doch! Du bist so schön!" / "I say to the moment: Stay now! You are so beautiful!". At that very moment, frightened and speechless, Peter will have said to Jesus: „Let us build three huts; one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” while Jesus, according to the Gospel, „was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light”

As Elena Dulgheru points to it, The Stalker himself says something similar on the threshold of the Room (where none of them enters), planning – as he possibly would every time when he got to that point – to move there with his wife and his cripple daughter: “How good it feels to be here! It is so quiet! Nobody can harm us here!” Why particularly there? Because there is one’s true home, where people’s badness is harmless and no one can harm you. Where is people’s badness harmless? Wherever God’s blessing has been laid down, and humility (word that comes from humus = clay, in Latin) has conquered vain glory. But suddenly, the Stalker adds: “No one lives and cannot possibly live in the Zone”. Therefore, the Zone (being understood as a Taboric space) is the very place which man’s impoverished heart has always longed for. It is the place where everything comes true and even wonders happen if you “concentrate and recollect your life”, because “when someone secretly recalls what he has lived through, he becomes a better person.” “Our moods, our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings can bring about change here.” – says the Stalker. All one has to do is wait – as in Waiting for Godot, for example – and obey the complicated system of traps in the Zone, which “demands respect, otherwise it will punish you”. Here is where the circle closes in order to form another one, full of forever new variables and mysteries. For what exactly one should ask for? What exactly one should wait for? Yet, do we still feel like wanting something, anything for that matter? Are we still ready to sacrifice our vain whims? The Writer (as well as The Professor) does not wait for anybody or anything, he does not want anything at all – nobody does – and does not hope for anything. "Nobody has faith anymore, not just these two" – says the Stalker to his wife, once he returns home, exhausted and almost sick. Yet, his bitterness does not prevent him from going back to the same mysterious place, again and again: the Zone, the Tabor, the Grail.

Another paradox: no one has faith any more, nothing has been left but trivial “curiosities” and selfish expectations – The Writer hopes to find his lost inspiration, while The Professor tries to blow up the Room where wishes come true for what will happen “when everyone believes in this famous room? When they all scramble for it? It’s just a question of time! If not today, then tomorrow, and not dozens of them, but thousands! All those uncrowned emperors, grand inquisitors, führers and such benefactors to humanity! Not for money, or for inspiration, but to remodel the world!...”. Still, the Stalker cannot help bringing new “clients” to the Zone, people who’ve got no other hope left. A certain change has happened though – the episode in the bar scene (at the end of their existential odyssey) speaks well in this respect: the Writer is smoking absent-mindedly (as if he was in deep thinking), while the Professor looks confused (as if he, too, was trying to figure out the mystery of this capricious and incomprehensible place, the mystery of this “holy fool” who seems determined to have faith when there is hardly anything left to believe in, when everything seems – like in an absurdist drama – an enormous prison.
Can there be a movie sequence or even a whole movie that will leave – more than others – deep traces in the memory of cinema-goers? Is there such a movie that will stay for ever green? There must be quite a few of them, that’s for sure. One is definitely the SF movie (with or without inverted commas) Stalker by Andrei Tarkovski. Both Tarkovski’s fans (some of them even adore him) and those ones still unfamiliar with (or put off by) his vision can testify to this. To be honest, it is not that easy to like Tarkovski when your mindset has been invaded by clichés and schemes which form the recipe of any blockbuster: action, fun, violence, hope, nudity, sex, happy ending.

Is Stalker a genuine SF movie? It is, but only with due respect to Dostoievsky’s words: „Fiction and reality are one and the same thing. Without reality there is no fiction.” The kind of fiction we find in Stalker is of the same nature with the fiction Nicolae Steinhardt ( uses in his The Happiness Diary: one that „does not delude, does not lead to obscure lands of illusion, and is not a mere change of décor – the fiction of faith. That does not deny reality, but transcends it; that does not have to get out of the yellow room in order to leave it; that is not fiction after all, because it does not entertain the mind with a bunch (a human comedy) of other virtual– yet unessential – worlds, but rather makes it concentrate upon reality; which does not exclude science, but transfigures the world and the individual. ”

So, why be this particular film then? Mainly because nowhere else but in Tarkovski’s works (and arguably in Bergamn’s Nattvardsgästerna / Winter Light, Såsom i en spegel / Through a Glass Darkly, Tystnaden / The Silence or in Bunuel’s Nazarin and Viridiana, in some of Antonioni’s films) – and particularly in Stalker – does modern man’s inability to believe (transfiguring the world) and confess (transfiguring himself) hurt is such proportions. But confession is closely related to faith, and (post)modern man living in the glorious age of general deconstruction has increased his scepticism and believes, like the Writer, that "Conscience, remorse, are merely products of the brain...Who told you there is something going on here? Have you ever seen anybody leaving this place happy?” The whole odyssey towards Tarkovsky's Zone in order to pursue happiness is but a (failed) preparation for the most important moment in a man's life. The moment when he has to say nothing, he has to do nothing but concentrate and remember his own life, for "when one remembers his life, one becomes a better person". Perhaps this is the "clue" to Tarkovsky's charade: once we have reached (together with the Writer and the Professor) the threshold of the Room where, as they say, "the most powerful, tormenting and sincere desire becomes true", the Stalker makes us face the unavoidable question: Who am I? How would I react if a "stalker" (a guide) whom I incessantly suspect of hypocrisy (and whom I had imagined as looking completely different - „leather stockings, an impressive black leather suit, the looks of a dragon”) told me: „You only need to have faith!”? Would I be ready or would I resign, like the Writer does, and whose pride makes him say: “I’ll hardly be a better person if I start remembering my life….And don’t you see how shameful that is? To abase oneself, to grovel, to pray?” Or would I call for extreme measures (like the Professor does, who has prepared – not his soul, but rather a 20 kilotons bombs – in order to blow up “this famous place” for he cannot sleep easy in his bed as long as “this ulcer is open to any scumbag”. The place which “does not bring happiness to anyone” will not be blown up because of the Stalker, the “hypocritical worm” (called by the Writer “simply defective”), who – among bitter tears – tells the Writer and the Professor (but only them?): “Nobody has anything left in this world any more. This is the only place you can come to, if you’ve nothing else to hope for…That’s why you came! So, why are you destroying…faith?”

What exactly is, after all, the Zone (or “the yellow room”, as Steinhardt put it)? Tarkovski provides the answer, in his book, Le temps scellé: „The Zone does not mean anything, at least it does not mean anything more than what one can find in my films. The Zone is the Zone. The Zone is life, and the man who lives it either crushes or saves himself. It’s all up to the way one feels his own dignity and ability in discerning what is essential from what isn’t.” If Tarkovski is right, we do need – more than ever – such a Stalker (a guide) to help us transform into a dream the dirt we have filled our souls with, a guide to help us discern – in this very age of excessive zapping and claiming of all freedoms – what is really essential from what isn’t.

Jul 27, 2013

BIRCHSCAPES - Komm mit Mir in den BirkenWald

In 2008, my friend Elisabeth Ochsenfeld, a Romanian painter living for many years in Germany, was proposing me to write a text about birches, for the catalogue of the collective international exhibition she was preparing in Timisoara. 
The exhibition, entitled Come With Me Into the Birch Forest - MNEMOSYNING, was opened on January 14 and 15, 2011 in Timisoara Art Museum and in Triade Art Gallery from the same city, respectively and was commented by Horia-Roman Patapievici. Its presentation can be found on the blog Birchscapes/Komm mit Mir in den BirkenWald/Come with me into the Birchforest
I recuperate the German version of the text for the catalogue now.
The pictures belong to the artist and are taken from her blog.

Vor ein paar Jahren hat uns Tarkovskis Name zusammengeführt. Eine Weltanschauung, eine Vision über das Schaffen, eine Vision über den Menschen, eine der zeitgenössischen Zivilisation fremde Vertikalität des Geistes aktualisierend. Für viele bleibt Tarkovski eine grosse Wette.

Elisabeth gestand mir, dass sie „etwas“ im Bestrahlungsbereich des Werkes dieses legendären Regisseurs plante. Es war die Zeit der komemorativen Ausstellungen, der grossen Retrospektiven und Monographien. Nichts von deren Gedenk - Stimmung konnte man im kräftigen, persönlich geprägtem Temperament und in der modernen Einstellung der Künstlerin wiederfinden. Ich vermutete also nicht, was es sein würde. Und die Künstler erzählen sehr wenig, sie wollen lieber, dass es nicht offenbart wird.

Die Zeit verging und ich merkte erneut, dass die wahren und wirklich kreativen Annäherungen nicht durch Kopieren oder Verbeugen erfolgen, sondern durch Erkundung und aufeinanderfolgende Umhüllungen in langsamen, konzentrische Spiralen, die zentripetal in Richtung des ursprünglichen Kerns des gesuchten Universums streben.

Elisabeth Ochsenfelds Ansatz ist überhaupt nicht illustrativ. Ihre Ausstellung ist nicht „über“ einen gewissen Regisseur, sie will auch nicht das Kommentar eines bestimmten kreativen Universums sein, sondern, sie versucht eher in ihren Hypostasen, eine bestimmte Befindlichkeit des Geistes zu erfassen. Ein Geisteszustand, eine Anima, ein Teil des tiefen Substrats der slavischen Zivilisation – Teil eines archaischen eurasiatischen Nordens, die ethnischen Grenzen überschreitend,welche wir überrascht, wiedererkennen, getarnt in einige der berühmtesten Kunstwerke der modernen Welt der Künste, in ihrer Öffnung für das Absolute. Eine Dimension des Geistes, metonymisch dargestellt durch einen Symbol – Baum, die Birke, sublimer Ausdruck maximaler Synthese der slavischen und nordeuropäischen Spiritualität. Von Wajdas Birkenwald, durch die neuesten Kreationen des skandinavischen Filmes hindurch, bis zur fast gesamten Filmografie Tarkovskis – damit wir nur die Welt des Films erwähnen – enthüllt die Birke die gleichen hermetischen und sapientialen Tugenden, Dank deren sie in der Folklore bereits berühmt wurde.

Nicht zufällig hat der schlanke Mond – Baum eine ganze Reihe Landschaften – Maler aus der zweiten Hälfte des XIX, Jahrhunderts inspiriert, peredvijniki, von Schischkin und Levitan, bis zu dem Präimpressionisten Arhip I. Kuindji. Alle wollten, in einem gleichen Schwung die nationale Identität durch Kunst definieren, aufgrund der alten folklorischen Quellen, die Topoi und die paradigmatischen Essenzen des russischen Ethnos hervorheben. Und alle malten Birken. Somit, enthüllte sich der Birkenwald als jener sakrale Raum, zu dem alle schöpferischen Phantasien der Künstler hingezogen waren in ihrem (mehr oder weniger programatischen, mehroder weniger bewussten) Ansatz der Identifizierung, auf dem Gebiete des Sichtbaren und des Objektualen, der Emergenz - Matrix der slawischen Seele.

Exponentialer Ausdruck der Reinheit, Zerbrechlichkeit und des Himmlischen, dem stihialen botanischen Areal Bruchstücke von Himmel und Vibration von Paradies einflössend, etabliert sich die Birke als weibliche Fassung des Baumes des Lebens. Der sonnige Birkenwald ist das emblematische Bild des Gartens Gottes. Die heilenden und schützenden Kräfte der Birke (von der nordeuropäischen und nordasiatischen Folklore behalten), sowie auch die Eigenschaft die Seelen der Toten zu erlösen (die von verschiedenen Formen der mündlichen Literatur bezeugt wird), entspringen aus seiner paradiesischen Abstammung. Die Vibrationen des Lichts in seiner Krone erinnern an die evaneszente Berührung des Heiligen Geistes, und seine makellose Rinde ist das visuelle Wahrzeichen der Auferstehung. In den slavischen vorchristlichen Glauben, war der Birkenwald heilig. Es ist kein Zufall, dass der Baum vom christlichen Glauben importiert wurde: zum Fest der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit und zu Pfingsten, schmücken die Russen ihre Kirchen mit jungen Birkenbäumen und mit Birkenzweigen, um den Beginn des Sommers und die Heiligung der Kreatur durch das Wunder der Auferstehung, zu bezeichnen. In der Pflanzenwelt, ist die Birke als einzige das Bild der Erscheinung des Herrn. 
Hier haben wir ein Gebiet des Geistes – das auf der Ebene der Ästhetik zum Sublimen gehört – sehr schwierig für die darstellende Kunst, vor allem unter den Bedingungen einer Abnützung der zeitgenössischen Sensibilität in der Ausübung der Kontemplation, ein Gebiet, das von dem grössten Teil der modernen Kunst zum Vergessen verurteilt wird. Wie nähert sich Elisabeth Ochsenfeld diesem Universum des Unsagbaren? 

Ein kraftvoller Künstler, mit einer geprägten, solaren Persönlichkeit, Empfänger einiger Erfahrungen der Avantgarde des Jetzt, die sich formal am entgegengesetzten Pol des Universums des Diaphanen und der Geheimnisse der Mystik slavischer und orthodoxer Abstammung. Elisabeth Ochsenfeld liebt aber die grossen Herausforderungen. Und ist für sie nicht die erste Herausforderung des „Ostens“. Ohne ihr eigenes stilistische und konzeptuelle Arsenal aufzugeben, passt es die rumänische Künstlerin an das untersuchte Universum an, welches sie, seinerseits, schrittweise, allmählich an sich heranzieht. Das Ergebnis, eine Reihe auferlegter Meditationen, entfaltet sich wie ein Gedicht, aus Strophen und Versen bestehend, zum Thema Baum des Lichts. Ein Gedicht in dem der primäre Instinkt von Vernunft beherrscht ist, die streng Gedanken, Impulse, Gefühle, in variable Rhythmen und Sequenzen ordnet und strukturiert, die die gleiche Anzahl von Fazetten der Beziehung Mensch – Landschaft ergeben. Jede kompositorische Struktur deutet eine Pranayama – Übung an, die die innere Atmung, den Rhythmus des Blickes regelt, um einen gewissen Rahmen des erforschten Universums einzuzeichnen. Um diese ontische Übung zu durchführen, verändert Elisabeth Ochsenfeld die Brennweite des Blickes, beziehungweise den Rahmen, der Teile der Wirklichkeit der Grössen, also auch von verschiedenen Essenzen, erfasst. Der Rahmen fordert den Rhythmus des Empfangs , das Temperament jeder Arbeit, immer eine verschiedene ondulatorische Wahrnehmung der Unantastbarkeit des Lichtes übend.

Apr 9, 2013

Stairway to Heaven or why do we love Tarkovsky?

An interview with Elena Dulgheru about Tarkovsky Days in Bucharest (December 4 to 7, 2012 ), by Vyacheslav Samoshkin for Dialogue of the Seas, No. 6/2012, the magazine of The International Fund For Cooperation and Partnership of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Translation of the interview: Dialogue of the Seas magazine.
More data on the same topic: 

Mar 27, 2013


Communication sustained at the International Symposium “The Caucasus: Georgia on the Crossroads. Cultural Exchange across the Europe and Beyond”, Florence, Italy, November 2-9, 2009 (Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation and International Initiative for Georgian Cultural Studies) and published by Georgian Arts and Culture Center in The Proceedings of the Symposium  (ISBN 978-9941-0-3311-7, ISSN 1987-829X, Tbilisi, Georgia)

Parajanov, The Legend of Surami Fortress
Spread all over the archaic civilisation, branched out till the Late Middle Ages and Romanticism, building rituals are based on the fundamental moment of the Divine sacrifice, completed at the Creation of the World. Mircea Eliade dedicated to them two studies [1], from which we shall start in order to sustain a self-contained analysis of the spiritual mechanisms of the founding myth.
The divine sacrifice of an originator god was well known in all religions and mythical cosmogonies, including totemic beliefs – asserts Mircea Eliade. But in spite of their large spreading, they had produced self-contained literary works – observes the brilliant scientist – only in South-Eastern Europe, which is a sign that the Balkan-Carpathian peoples’s family had resonated in the best way with the message of the archaic myth. The belief in the immortality of the soul was a premise for the fact that the sacrificial act, fulfilled for the benefit of the collectivity should not be disclaimed, but accepted like an act of liberation, generating ethnicity and everlastingness, exalted by collective memory and polished into literary works of a unique artistry. Eliade’s argument asserting the masterpiece status of the Romanian ballad “The Legend of Argesh Monastery”, based on the comparative study of the whole Medieval Europe’s thematic literature, relies on this fact.

I - The Romanian ballad

The Legend of Argesh Monastery, paintings by Igor Vieru
 “The Legend of Argesh Monastery”, also called “Master Manole” is one of the most appreciated Romanian popular epic poems, one of the “trademarks” of Romanian spirituality. It has been published in 19th century and immediately included into the most important international folklore compendia.
The epic poem describes the legend of the building of Argesh Monastery (1517), a masterwork of Romanian Late-Medieval architecture and the most famous edifice of The Voivode of Wallachia Neagoe Basarab (1512-1521):
Nine stonemasons and their master Manole were finding a place to build a monastery, ordered for his memorial by the Wallachian prince Negru Voda. Because an unknown reason, the walls of the new building were continuously collapsing. In a prophetic dream, Manole was advised to bricken into the wall the first woman coming to them. It happened that Manole's wife Anna showed up. So the craftsmen had to keep their vow and immure her alive within the church walls. Thus the monastery could be finished. The prince was pleased by the beauty of the monastery, but he ordered to remove the ladders, and so Manole and his craftsmen remained out-of-the-way on the roof. In an attempt to escape, they made themselves pairs of wings from shingles and tried to fly from the roof, but all of them crashed to the ground and transformed into stones, while on the place where Manole had crashed, a well “with bitter and saline water, watered by tears” (as the ballad sings) has spring out. In one of the versions Manole nails the wooden shingles to his arms, prefiguring the Crucifixion and revealing the Christic essence of the hero. “As well as Jesus, Manole has a sacerdot’s role, he sacrifices and is sacrificed for the sins of the others” (S. Ispas, 2001, 161).
The Legend of Argesh Monastery is the most prolific from all Romanian folk literature; it inspired generations of literators and artists and has been studied by numerous specialists [2]. Its exceptional value among other building legends from other cultures, as specialists assert [3], consists in the sacred character of the edifice – a church – and the Christian meaning of the sacrifice, as it is suggested by the poetic text.

II - The Georgian legend

But the building myth had literary crystallized also in the Transcaucasian area, another crucible of races and religions that had preserved its archaic dower. The Legend of Surami Fortress is a definitory literary work for Georgian ethnos. Its absence from the worldwide folklore compendia is evidently a consequence of the symptomatology of “small cultures”.
The action of the legend takes place in the end of the Middle Ages, when, after centuries of resistance, the lands of South Georgia were incorporated into the Osman Imperium and converted to Islam. The Muslims continued to press upon the country. Apostasy was perceived as a collective tragedy, eroding the foundations of the nation. The folk productions of the times were sorrowfully expressing this feeling.
Inspired by the patriotic and religious message of the legend and starting from the literary transcriptions of Daniel Cionkadze, Niko Lordkipanidze and David Suliashvili, the armenian film-maker Serge Parajanov transcribed the legend into a cinematic ballad: The Legend of Surami Fortress [4], a heroico-poetic drama, produced by Gruzia Film in 1984. The film is dedicated to “the memory of Georgian soldiers from all the times, who gave their lives for the freedom of their fatherland”.
The Legend of Surami Fortress synthesizes the socio-historical scene of the epoch in the frames of an epopee, going off through three generations. The tragedies of an unfulfilled love and of two lives fallen into apostasy are interleaving around the main plot: the raising of Surami Fortress. The fortress defends the city of Surami and assures the security of the fatherland. But from unknown reasons the fortress cannot be erected. The feeling of collective damnation is hovering over everyone. What should be done in order to regain the Divine willingness? From the ashes of great disasters, after three generations, a saviour will rise.
We briefly relate the subject of the movie, in order to emphasize the spiritual landmarks of the plot.

Tbilisi. The Great Prince orders the building of Surami fortress. Young Durmishkhan loves Vardo and wants to marry her, but both are serfs, depending on the benevolence of their lord. Their Lord liberates Durmishkhan, who leaves into the word to gain money to redeem his beloved. Vardo has the gift of foreseeing and forebodes that Durmishkhan would never return. Reaching the Turkish land, Durmishkhan befriends with the merchant Osman-Aga, a renegated Georgian, who tells him how he ran away from Tartars and slavery, changed his faith, his speech and became a merchant. But he cannot forgive himself the renunciation of the law of his ancestors. Under his protection, Durmishkhan also becomes a merchant, marries a Turkish woman and has a son: Zurab.
Vardo leaves home to find her beloved. Her prayers for his coming back are not accepted. A fortune-teller shows her Durmishkhan’s live. After the fortune-teller’s death, Vardo takes her place.
Osman-Aga leaves his trade business and rebaptizes, in order to repatriate to Georgia, but the Muslims assassinate him.
Familiarized by his teacher with his ancestors’ spirituality, young Zurab enters into the service of the Great Prince of Georgia. From the fortune-teller Vardo, Zurab finds out the price of the Surami fortress’s rising: he must let himself bricked up into the citadel’s wall. The young man happily fulfills the prophecy. The Fortress is finished and the Great Prince orders the people to prostrate before Vardo, the spiritual mother of the martyr.

We shall not pass in revue all the varieties of the Georgian legend, nor of the Romanian one. Our task is only to reveal the Christian essence of the founding myth and its corresponding rituals and literary productions, that are mostly considered to belong exclusively to the pagan-totemic culture and Weltanschauung. Therefore it is not so important whether the two paradigmatic examples chosen here belong to the popular, anonymous literature or to the cultivated one, subsequently rearranged by the cinematic art: both have suffered certain, more or less long, more or less complex stylisation processes, in order to reveal the essence of the myth.

III - Spiritual landmarks of the Georgian legend [5]

The Legend of Surami Fortress. Vardo
All the heroes of the legend seem to lie under a curse. All their lives suffer of bad luck. Their prayers are not accepted. Even God seems to have turned His face back from them. And so it is: apostasy attracts God’s curse. In a country convulsed by aggressive pagans, the weakest surrender, but the sin of apostasy spreads over the entire community. That’s why peoples’ prayers are not accepted, loves and destinies come to nothing, and the fortress cannot be raised.
The curse hovering over Vardo is a part of the collective curse of the whole nation. Renouncing to her destiny, Vardo will guide other’s fortunes, until her road would meet that of her alter-ego (her ex-fiance’s child) and through him with the destiny of the nation. Prophets and fortune-tellers have no own destiny, they are devoted – to God or to Devil: whom will Vardo finally choose?
Endorsing since his childhood his teacher’s lesson of patriotism and faith, Zurab is prepared for the proof of supreme sacrifice. The leitmotif of the unfinished wall is torturing the country since two generations, the curse must be overcome. Zurab fulfills his task with serenity.
Under the wall hiding the young man’s body his spiritual mother lays a patch of blue tissue: a piece of heaven – here is the sign that the divine order has been fulfilled. The sacrificer is also sacrificed, her destiny, broken on earth, fructifies through the Cross, according to the Marial archetype. The martyr’s love thaws out the silence of the Heaven and eventually opens the windows of the country towards God. Like in a new Creation day the Great Prince orders “There shall be light!”, proclaims the close of the mourning and the beginning of the great feast.

IV - A comparative glance at the building rituals from the Caucasus and the Carpathians

The church of Curtea de Argesh Monastery (Romania)
Surami Fortress (Georgia)
The Legend of Surami Fortress, read by Parajanov, fortunately stands out from the alterations of the creationist archetype, present in most of the building rituals. It’s not the sacrificed body of young Zurab that offers ex-officio perennialiy to the fortress, but his voluntary and total participation (moral and physical) to the fortress’s rising and the salvation of his nation. This idea is clearly emphasized by the filmmakers, by quoting an aphorism of a maximal limpidity and sharpness: “If a nation has a young man who is capable to voluntarily immure himself in the walls of a fortress, that country and its people are invincible (Niko Lordkipanidze)”.
The exceptional quality of the legend cinematically transposed by Parajanov, which distinguishes it from most of the other legends on the same topic, elevating it from the stage of pagan rituals to the altitude of Christianity is the voluntariness of self-sacrifice. It is true, the filmmakers adapted the most known version, of Niko Lordkipanidze, where the sacrifice of the young man is unurged; in other versions the immurement is decided by another person or is a matter of revenge. Parajanov had chosen the most ethically elevated version, the only one falling under the Christian paradigm and ultimately, the only one capable to give birth to a masterwork.
In most of the building legends – Mircea Eliade asserts – the subject of immolation is chosenby the craftsmen’s team after a visionary dream or a premonition and is sacrificed either without its willingness, by cheating or by force. It is therefore a victim and not a martyr; the human been, while not voluntarily participating to the sacrificial act, or even opposing to it, is treated at the level of its primary, animalic level and at the same level is the result: the building stands, but does not get the Divine benediction; being not the fruit of devotion and love, it doesn’t become a vessel of the Grace. An offering that is not motivated by love doesn’t penetrate into eternity. “And though I bestow all my goods, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13, 3).
Mircea Eliade’s explanation, irrespective of the cultural field to which it is applied (Christian Europe or totemic civilizations), is retrieved from the mechanisms of magic and animism: in order to last, the building has to “absorb” itself a soul (M. Eliade, 1991, 416). But “souls robbery” is a matter of… black magic. From this approach, restricted to “magic techniques” and rigid initiating rituals, the building rite looses all its originar elevation, becoming a simple empty form, tributary to satanism.
Only the Divine Verb builds for everlastingness, and all that is done in sinergy with God. The Creation of the World is an act of God’s self-offering, issued from love. By consequence, the archetype of Creation (lying at the origin of all building myths) is based on God’s self-conscious and voluntary self-sacrifice. Any good and lasting human creation is made “with the will of the Father, the aid of the Son and the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit” – is written on the frontispieces of our East-Christian churches. The Christianism had substituted the ritual blood sacrifice with the spiritual sacrifice of the humble heart; the only accepted human sacrifice is martyrdom, the supreme measure of love and the confessing imitation of Christ. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15, 13).
The builder’s sacrifice begins with his conscious co-operation with God, with the supplication of the Divine blessing. This is the divine-human restoration of the primary archetype of creation. From a Christian perspective, most of the legends based on founding myths have been suffered alterations of the originar archetype, by the ritualistic-mechanical substitution of the offering. When the stonemason is asked for his own life for the lastingness of the building (which means his total spiritual devotion), he answers “by cheating”, substituting the offering with that of another been, not consciously implied in the constructing work, therefore with a simple victim. Hence, he declines a part of his responsibility and spiritual authorship of the edifice, which will also become, from a spiritual point of view, a surrogate.
In Eliade’s vision the mechanism of founding rituals derives from the privileged post-mortem status, automatically conferred (as the scientist considers) by a violent death. The heroes of Ancient Greece, for instance, are spending eternity in the sunny Elysian Fields, and not in the kingdom of shadows and forgetfulness (Hades), like ordinary mortals. The motif of violent death is often reiterated by the eminent scientist, however without mentioning the condition of the “victim’s” mental participation to its sacrificing act. Nevertheless, a mechanically executed ritual is nothing more than a vain substitute of the authentic and self-conscious sacrifice, therefore a simple act of magic, and not an act of faith. Its beneficiary is the demon and not God.
Self-sacrifice in the name of God (or of a superior moral principle) is the only one that takes “the victim” out from the bloodthirsty arbitrariness and places it together with the heroes and the martyrs: accepting to spend his blood for the others, the hero overcomes death and therefore no more dies.
On the contrary, a violent death of an unprepared man – as folk beliefs, Gothic literature and parapsychology handbooks sustain – conserves post-mortem the state of horror, shock and revolt in which death had caught him, [state] which also imprints on the location of the accident or crime. Purifying rituals from all religions (Christian, non-christian and pagan), carried out by priests or shamans on the “malefic sets” where violent deaths had been occurred are determined by this very belief.
That’s why understanding founding sacrifice only from a pagan perspective dramatically reduces its dimension and meaning.

V - The mystery of martyrdom

Paradanov's Legend of Surami Fortress. Saint Nino
Only he who consciously assumes death or (corporal) suffering in the name of an elevated ideal, the martyr - an essential figure in all religions - can overcome the horror caused by violence.
By the furnace of lurid death, accepted in God’s name, the martyr “consumes his death” since his live time and therefore doesn’t have anymore to die. While for most people (including Christians) death means sleep and forgetfulness (the popular expression “to fall asleep in the Lord” confirms it) and, in the best case, resting (in a place “without pain, sorrow and cry” [6]), in the case of the martyr, cognition, affect and volition (the three attributes of the psychic) stay active, being even potentiated by the intimacy with God, expressed while his earthly ordeals.
Offering his flesh for tearing, overthrowing pain and horror by patience and faith, he overwhelms the bounds of nature, gaining a body of glory. In truth, the martyr isn’t anymore a slave, but a friend and a bridegroom of God. Like to one who had given everything for Him, Christ will fulfill all his prayers. A prototype of the founding hero, the saint martyr has the power to protect the city, the people, the Militant Church. He becomes invincible. As well as Saint George, by excellency his prototype, he is The Victory-Bearer.
The blood of the martyrs has been called “the seed of Christianity” [7], while always martyrdom became an occasion of massive conversions and an extraordinary catalyzer of faith. It is eloquent (and apparently paradoxical) that Church associates martyrs (many of them, virgin-like) with wedding and fertility.
In the tradition of ecclesiastical architecture, churches are always built on sites sainted by the blood of heroes and martyrs or are bearing in their core parts of their bodies. But never the blood of some no-account victims of the hazard, persuasion or cheating can be the sustaining matter of the Holly Sacrifice.

[1] Comentarii la Legenda Meşterului Manole // Mircea Eliade, Drumul spre centru, Editura Univers, Bucureşti, 1991; and chap. V - Meşterul Manole şi Mănăstirea Argeşului // Mircea Eliade, De La Zalmoxis la Genghiz-Han, Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică, Bucureşti, 1980.
[2] Like Bogdan Petriceicu Haşdeu, V. Bogrea, Dumitru Caracostea, P. Caraman, Mircea Eliade, Nicolae Iorga, Ion Taloş, Sabina Ispas, Adrian Harghel.
[3] Ion Taloş, Sabina Ispas, Adrian Harghel etc.
[4] Screenplay: Vaja Ghigashvili. Directors: Serghei Paradjanov, Dodo Abashidze. Gruzia-Film, USSR, 1984.

[5] In its cinematic version.
[6] As the Cristian-Orthodox burial ceremonial is saying.
[7]  Tertullian.

1. Eliade M., Drumul spre centru, Bucureşti, 1991.
2. Eliade M., De la Zalmoxis la Genghiz-Han, Bucureşti, 1980.
3. Ispas S., Povestea cântată // Studii de etnografie şi folclor, Bucureşti, 2001.

Fragment from the book:  Elena Dulgheru, The Ladder of Heaven in Cinema. Kusturica, Tarkovsky, Parajanov (Arca Invierii Publishing House, Bucharest, 2011). A presentation of the book can be accessed here:

Jan 28, 2013

Tarkovsky everning in Oxford

London Tarkovsky fans are invited to:

A talk with Layla Alexander-Garrett, Tarkovsky’s  interpreter and friend, the author of the book Andrei Tarkovsky: The Collector Of Dreams

At: Nissan Lecture Theatre

On: January 30, at  St Anthony's College ( 62 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6JF).


More information on:


Jan 6, 2013


Between 4 and 7 December 2012 in Bucharest was held the international festival "Tarkovsky in 2012", dedicated to the celebration of 80 years from the birth of the great film-maker. 

The program of the international event, held in the framework of "The Days of Russian Culture in Romania",  was rich and complex: evenings of feature and documentary films, presented for the first time in Romania - the original versions of "Andrei Rublev" (called "The Passion According to Andrei") and of "Solaris", released for the first time in 2012 in Russia and generously provided by Russian Gosfilmfond, new documentaries by Sergei Karpukhin ("The Mistery of Andrey Rublev") and Evgeny Borzov ("The Magnetism of Memory" and "Andrei Tarkovsky. The Collector of Dreams"), a photo exhibition, an international symposium, a roundtable, presentations of books in Romanian and English dedicated to Andrey Tarkovsky, meetings with specialists on Tarkovsky from Russia and the UK. 

The main organizers of Tarkovsky Days in Bucharest were the Russian Embassy in Romania, the Ministry of Culture of Romania and Cultural Association "Orante".
The guests of the Bucharest event were the writer Marina Arsenievna Tarkovskaya (the sister of the great film-maker), the film-director Alexander Gordon, Professor Dmitry Salynski (whose book "The Tarkovsky Canon" has just been translated and published in Romania) and Layla Alexander-Garrett, author of the photo-exhibition "Tarkovsky in Sweden" and of some memorial books about Andrey Tarkovsky.

The general tone that animated the Bucharest Tarkovsky Days was enthusiasm and excitement - both of the audience, of the press, the international guests, organizers, partners and volunteers involved in the project.

Endless queues for interviews, sold-out screenings at the Buharest "Eforie" Cinemateque, animated discussions during the symposium and the round table, which unformally continued after the end of the program, and a great interest for the released books ( "The Tarkovsky Canon" by Dmitri Salynsky, "Tarkovsky. Film as Prayer" and "The Ladder of Paradise in Cinema: Kusturica, Tarkovsky, Parajanov" by Elena Dulgheru and "Andrei Tarkovsky: A Photographic Chronicle of the Making of The Sacrifice" by Layla Alexander-Garrett) proved the steady interest for the personality and work of Andrei Tarkovsky in Romania.
The events were held at the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant and at Romanian Cinematheque.


More information (in Romanian) and photos from the event:

And press:;2161;1;77735;0;Tarkovski-regizorul-total.html.—la-cinemateca-eforie, Tarkovski in 2012 – la Cinemateca Eforie

The official site of the event: