Many directors spend their entire careers creating and producing pictures at a consistent and near-overwhelming rate-- think Ozu, Altman, Godard, Mizoguchi, Fassbinder, etc. Others meanwhile, work more methodically, pouring years into each imposing work. In this camp you have your Terence Malick's, Stanley Kubrick's, Victor Erice's, and, arguably most substantial of all, Andrei Tarkovsky. The legendary Soviet spiritualist, despite casting such a large shadow over post-World War II art-house cinema, only directed seven films in his 25 year career, before dying of cancer in 1986, the year of his final film. Despite this brief catalogue of work, however, Tarkovsky's is a career marked by it's density, each picture an undertaking of near-mammoth proportions, rendering the man's filmography a huge, lumbering labyrinth of ideas, pretensions, and, at it's best, transcendence. I can't think of another filmmaker whose work feels not only richer, but distinctly new, with each successive viewing.
This makes a hierarchy such as this somewhat futile, as I consider all seven of these films to be essential viewing, despite the flaws inherent in many of them. Here is a director who was so ambitious, so original, and so flat-out brave, that each work can't help but feel like an achievement unto itself. So the following list, while arbitrary as far as ranking goes, should be seen more as measurement of importance and influence . In other words, while Ivan's Childhood may pull up in the final slot here, I'd still consider it one of the most auspicious debuts in film history. It's just that Stalker, for example, is one of the supreme achievements in all of modern cinema, and therefore it becomes rather unfair to compare the furthest spectrum's of his work, as each is so stylistically-- if not morally, spiritually and thematically-- of a different time. The traces were there from the outset, however, and it's easy to see the through-line from Ivan's climatic lake sprint in Ivan's Childhood to Alexander and Maria's soulful levitation in The Sacrifice.
In many ways, then, it is probably more appropriate to work one's way through the Tarkovsky catalogue in sequence, in order to chart not only the formal solidification, but also the increasingly disenchanted, bleak, but ultimately inspiring worldview on display. It may not be the easiest cinematic journey one could embark upon, but I can think of few as rewarding.
1. Stalker (1979)
2. Solaris (1972)
3. Andrei Rublev (1966)
4. The Sacrifice (1986)
5. Mirror (1975)
6. Nostalghia (1983)
7. Ivan's Childhood (1962)
Previous "Ranked & Revisited" entries: