Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Andrei Tarkovsky's Adaptation of Motifs Embedded in Leonardo Da Vinci's the Adoration of the Magi

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Andrei Tarkovsky's Adaptation of Motifs Embedded in Leonardo Da Vinci's the Adoration of the Magi

Article excerpt

Résumé: En incorporant le tableau "L'Adoration du Magi" de Léonard de Vinci à la structure narrative de son film Le Sacrifice, Andrei Tarkovsky fait plus que simplement établir des liens iconographiques entre son oeuvre est celle du peintre. Il exprime plutôt sa propre interprétation du tableau en inversant la vision historique et spirituelle du monde au moment de la naissance du Christ pour présenter une image prophétique sombre de l'avenir de l'occident.

The concept of pictorial adaptation in film has been defined rather loosely, and ome film scholars have even denied the possibility that a painting, a pictorial narrative, could be adapted to film at all.1 However, film adaptation has always been related to literature because of its natural correlation with the narrative and the narrative's unfolding in time. It is precisely this aspect of time, the experience of the narrative's temporal duration, that makes painting and film distinct from each other.

In spite of such a fundamental difference between painting and film, film is able to assimilate the pictorial event into the cinematic temporal action. This is possible because painting and film share an affinity for articulating a visual narrative and reproducing the three dimensional world on a two dimensional plane. A good example of this kind of adaptation is found in Luis Buftuel's Viridiana (Spain, 1961) as he makes use of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Sapper (1495). Bunuel's adaptation is a conscious effort to recreate Leonardo's pictorial composition. In this particular instance, the result is a shocking tableau vivant as Bunuel substitutes a drunken orgy of beggars for the sacred event of the pictorial narrative. In the case of the film, The Sacrifice (Sweden, 1986, Andrei Tarkovsky), with its adaptation of the pictorial composition of Leonardo's The Adoration of the Magi (1482), there is not a one-to-one correspondence.2 Instead, Andrei Tarkovsky establishes a close correlation with the Adoration's theme, sub-themes and visual imagery. That is, the transposition of the painting into the film is interpreted thematically, rather than as a faithful narrational and representational matching.

Although Tarkovsky clearly relates the film to the painting, interestingly enough he never makes any allusions either in his writings or in interviews to any specific connection between the film and the painting. We don't know whether his interpretation is intended to be explicit or is symptomatic of something else. The fact is the film stands as witness to such a correlation, which is invariably revealed the moment we try to answer the obvious questions: What is the painting's role within the narrative of the film? How does the film relate to the painting itself?

Whatever the answers may be, the similarities between the film and the painting are so striking that some authors have commented that although the visual and thematic relations are not direct translations of one medium into another, it would not do justice to Tarkovsky's creative talent if we were to suggest the contrary. Peter Green in his tribute to the film wrote, "The Sacrifice is of a kindred spirit to the painting, and Leonardo's work contains not merely a similar central statement to that of the film, but also motifs that could be seen as specifically Tarkovskian."3

A few basic reasons suggest why there is such an interface between these two works: Tarkovsky's film narrative and Leonardo's iconographie representation of the narrative of the Adoration of the Magi both fit the description of nontraditional narrative. Both works enigmatically prompt the viewer to question why the story is told in the way that it is. Both utilize imagery of devastation and destruction as a backdrop. The film adopts some of the painting's concrete visual imagery, tightening the relation between the two. For example, the film begins with Alexander planting a leafless tree as he tells his son a story of two monks and a barren tree that after being watered faithfully, day after day, miraculously comes to life. …

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