“the Killers” Andrei Tarkovksy’s First Feature Film
Before his masterpieces, Tarkovksy was forged in the school of every great director: short film.
For Andrei Tarkovsky’s staunchest admirers, devotees of the director’s imagery, it would probably be difficult to imagine their idol directing pure film noir. The Russian genius’ first work as director, however, was exactly that: pure film noir. The Killers, based on Ernest Hemingway’s homonymous novel, was the first filmic project of Nostalghia’s distinguished director.
After having studied music, painting and sculpture, disciplines that would later be reflected in his particular conception of film, Tarkovsky joined the Soviet film school, the VGIK.
There, alongside fellow students like Marika Beiku and Aleksandr Gordon, Tarkovsky would choose the theme of his first cinematic project. As if nothing yet anticipated his future interests, Tarkovksy chose Hemingway’s famous short story “The Killers”.
Two professional assassins, Al and Max, burst into a small village diner demanding information about Ole Andersson, aka The Swede. Knowing this character’s routine, a regular costumer of the diner, the killers decide to wait for him by taking some of the workers as hostages and tying them up. The story of increasing tension is resolved almost exclusively within this unit of space, only interrupted by the visit of one of the costumers who is seized (Nick), and then decides to visit The Swede to warn him. Regardless, The Swede seems resigned to his fate. This is perhaps the story’s most fascinating element and upon which the entire mystery gravitates.
Perhaps influenced by The Killers, by Robert Siodmak, the first and successful adaptation of Hemingway’s short story, Tarkovksy decided to implement the knowledge he acquired in his formative years. With Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in the leading roles, Siodmak had accomplished one of the masterpieces of film noir, which Hemingway himself asserted was the best cinematic adaptation of his work. Perhaps not as brilliant in its proposal as that of Siodmak, Ubiytsy (as it was called in Russian), it is a work of great interest, especially if we consider it was the first work of simple, yet talented, students.
The short film, strictly faithful to a story that is almost exclusively based on dialogue, with great sensitivity translates the original atmosphere into images, achieving a delicate construction in chiaroscuro and an effective dramatic tension, supported by a correct direction of non-professional actors and precise staging.
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