classic film

Five-star cinema: ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ by Andrei Tarkovsky

Innocence is the first casualty of war in the Russian master’s unforgettable debut.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s directorial debut opens with a dream, or is it a nightmare? Twelve-year-old Ivan (Nikolai Burlyayev) is sailing on the top of trees. Below his feet are nature’s bounty and his beloved mother. He snaps out of his vision in a cold and dark room, which reveals how far Ivan has travelled from his immediate past. His family is dead, but Ivan is frighteningly alive. One of the countless casualties of WWII, the precocious but disturbed child has made himself useful to Russian troops fighting the Germans by carrying out reconnaissance missions. A soldier keeps trying to enroll Ivan in a military boarding school, but the boy wants instant revenge against the “Fritzes”, as the Germans are derogatorily called.


Ivan’s Childhood, based on Vladimir Bogomolov’s novella Ivan, came after other Russian cinematic explorations of the emotional and psychological impact of WWII, notably Ballad of a Soldier (1959). Ivan’s Childhood is an early indication of the poetic humanism and mysticism that would result in such masterpieces as Solaris, Stalker and Mirror. Tarkovsky fills his non-linear narrative with surreal and hallucinatory compositions. Prose meets poetry in the realistic depictions of life in the Army barracks and trenches and the stylised dream logic that governs Ivan’s thoughts. Even an interlude involving a love triangle between soldiers and a nurse in a tree-lined forest becomes an experience of the ordinary.

The kiss in the woods.

An old man whom Ivan meets while wandering through the ruins of his house prophetically says, “No stove or chimney will ever burn down.” Ivan can never escape the power of his memories, and Tarkovsky’s eye ensures that nobody who has watched Ivan’s Childhood will ever forget the true meaning of war.

Nikolai Burlyayev’s indelible performance captures the confusion, abjectness and tragedy of WWII. The Germans are understandably the villains here, but Tarvoksky’s message is equally aimed at any government, authoritarian or otherwise, that willingly pushes its population into the jaws of death. After the war ends, Russian soldiers wander in shock through a German house of horrors, where prisoners of war and partisans have been hung from the rafters. Here, they find the starkest possible evidence of how they have failed Ivan, the boy who became a man far too soon.

Ivan during the war...
Ivan during the war...
... and by the end of the conflict.
... and by the end of the conflict.

The state-run Mosfilm studio that produced Ivan’s Childhood was flummoxed by the poetic flourishes, Tarkovsky writes in the book of essays Sculpting in Time. With his first feature, Tarkovsky was laying down the foundation for his directorial vision, one that is made up of dreams and visions, fragmented and associative imagery and the disruption of textbook linearity. “Isolated impressions of the day have set off impulses within us, evoked associations; objects and circumstances have stayed in our memory, but with no sharply defined contours, incomplete, apparently fortuitous. Can these impressions of life be conveyed through film? They undoubtedly can; indeed, it is the especial virtue of cinema, as the most realistic of the arts, to be the means of such communication,” Tarkovsky writes.

Mother and son look down a well.
Mother and son look down a well.
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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

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1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.


2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.