The Criterion Collection is going to launch their own streaming service in April to take the place of FilmStruck. Charter members who signed up early have been treated to a free movie every week since the start of February. The first week it was Elaine May’s Mickey and Nicky. Week two saw Chungking Express. Week three was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Tom Jones. This week’s movie is Andrei Tarkovsky’s brilliant masterpiece Stalker.
Loosely based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky this 1979 Soviet film is set in a future where something called the Zone has been created. The military have forbidden travel into the Zone but there are specialists called Stalkers who lead people into the Zone. They also collect special artifacts from the Zone and sell them on the black market.
Two men,the “Writer” (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the “Professor” (Nikolai Grinko) approach the Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky). They are looking for the Room in the Zone. The Room is a place located in the Zone and is rumoured to grant people wishes. The Stalker’s wife and child don’t want him to go back but he agrees to lead the two men to the Room.
Once the group reach the zone the Stalker leads them through a winding path through overgrown forest using a metal nut tied to cloth to test for traps throughout the zone. The Writer and the Professor each have their own reasons for going to the Room. The Stalker relates a tale about how a previous stalker lead his brother to room only to have it go wrong. The men continue their journey anyway.
The film is beautifully shot. The movie is gorgeous to watch. It’s like a lot of Tarkovsky’s work where it’s slow moving but it works. Back in 1979 when Tarkovsky was critized for the slow pace of the film he reportedly said “the film needs to be slower and duller at the start so that the viewers who walked into the wrong theatre have time to leave before the main action starts.”