Rare archive of Russian director Tarkovsky for sale

By Reuters 12 November 2012

An archive of thousands of letters, photographs and recordings once belonging to one of Russia's greatest film directors will be offered for sale at Sotheby's in London later this month, the auctioneer said on Wednesday. By Mike Collett-White.

The Andrei Tarkovsky collection covers the last 20 years of the film maker’s life and includes the draft of a letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev from the late 1970s urging him to lift a ban on screenings of his 1966 classic “Andrei Rublyev”.

The letter underlines the director’s long tussle with Soviet authorities over censorship which eventually convinced Tarkovsky to leave his native country and spend the last four years of his life in exile.

“No significant material relating to Andrei Tarkovsky has ever before appeared at auction, and it is unlikely that such an archive will appear again,” said Stephen Roe, Sotheby’s head of books and manuscripts.

He said that bidding for the collection, valued at 80-100,000 pounds ($130-160,000), could come from a wide variety of sources when it goes under the hammer on Nov. 28 at a music, books and manuscripts auction.

“I think it’s so Russian that if there wasn’t Russian interest it would be very surprising,” Roe told Reuters.

“However, Tarkovsky is very important in European and world cinema and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people were also interested outside Russia.

“Opportunities to acquire something like this are very, very few indeed.”


Tarkovsky is considered one of the greatest film directors of the 20th century and perhaps second only to Sergei Eisenstein in terms of Russian cinema.

Many leading film makers working today cite him as an inspiration, including award-winning compatriot Alexander Sokurov who knew Tarkovsky and is widely seen as his heir.

Arguably the most important document in the archive, which is being sold by Tarkovsky’s pupil and friend Olga Surkova, is a draft of a letter the director wrote to Brezhnev about restrictions placed on his medieval epic Andrei Rublyev.

Based on the life of the famous Russian icon painter, the movie was not screened publicly in the Soviet Union for several years after it first appeared at the Cannes film festival in 1969 because of its themes of religion and artistic freedom.

“…For three and a half years the film has been kept away from the screen,” he wrote.

“Andrei Rublyev was not and could not have been used for any kind of anti-Soviet propaganda … I do not have any opportunity to exercise my creative ideas. I was told that the issue is closely related to the fate of Andrei Rublyev.”

He went on to describe the difficulties he faced in making a living to support his wife and child in a country that treated his films with deep suspicion.

“I do not feel comfortable talking about that, but my situation has been unchanged for so long that I cannot keep silence any longer,” he added.

The next film he directed was science fiction movie “Solaris”, also considered a masterpiece by Western critics and which inspired a 2002 adaptation made by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney.

Similarly admired was his 1975 picture “Mirror”, but seven years later he decided to leave the Soviet Union and shot “Nostalghia” (Nostalgia) in Italy and “The Sacrifice” in Sweden.

The latter was his last movie. Tarkovsky was diagnosed with cancer in 1985 and died the following year in Paris aged 54. DM


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