Oldies but goldies: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)


Director: Andrei Tarkovsky; Main Cast: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy ZharikovStepan KrylovNikolay Grinko;

Tarkovsky’s first feature film is a rather bleak account of the final year of World War II on the Russian front. The main point of view is not a soldier but a 12-year-old boy, Ivan (Burlyaev), whose life has been ravaged by the German invasion. We find Ivan working as a military scout, infiltrating behind enemy lines and then reporting back information on Nazi positions and movements. He is collected by a sentry after a long swim across a river and delivered to young Lieutenant Galtsev (Zharikov), who, at first, doesn’t believe him to be a scout, being just a boy. Galtsev discovers that Ivan has been taken under the wing by Captain Kholin (Zubkov), his subaltern Katasonov (Krylov) and also his superior Lt. Colonel Gryaznov (Grinko), all of whom would love nothing more than to send him away to safety to a military school. Unfortunately Ivan is hell-bent on revenge against the Nazis and wants only to be part of the war effort, either with the army or with the partisans. Kholin and Gryaznov can only accept his stubbornness and plan the next recon mission, across the same river, in preparation for the Russian offensive. Ivan is carried on a dinghy by Kholin and Galtsev, with the favor of the night and some luck, and then left on the German shore to proceed on his own. It will be the last time Kholin and Galtsey will see him. The film then moves on to the end of the war and the epilogue of the story, seen through Galtsev’s eyes. Tarkosky’s inspired shots and Vadim Yudov’s cinematography perfectly depict the grimness of the life on the front, juxtaposing it with peaceful and beautiful scenery (I’ve never seen a birch wood so enchanting!). The contrast between Ivan’s dreams and his present life is also rendered very well, and I appreciated water as recurring element in both, maybe symbol of connection and, at the same time, separation. Although not for light entertainment, this film is captivating and original, I would say that, along with Battleground, it is the most candid representation of events during World War II, without any glamour or over the top heroics. Unrelenting and gripping —8/10

This post is my contribution to the Russia in classic films blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently. You can read all the other entries here:




Filed under Oldies but goldies, Seen at home

6 responses to “Oldies but goldies: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

  1. Thanks so much for taking part and sharing this intriguing film from Tarkovsky’s early career.

  2. I added another one to my list of movies to see. If you rank it with Battleground, it must be good. Thanks for sharing with all of us.

  3. Great film!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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