MatteoWouters’s review published on Letterboxd:
Summer 2019 list - #25
Well I guess I finally finished my Summer 2019 list even if I'm almost a month late, but anyway here's the review.
One of the easiest 5/5s I've ever given. This is the second Tarkovsky film I've seen along with Solaris (which also blew me away) and at this rate I feel like he might challenge Kubrick and PTA for the spot of all-time favorite director for me. Each film of his is so masterful and has so much to say and to gain from multiple viewings, and he has such a unique style that appeals directly to my taste.
I've been looking forward to this film for a while and somehow the experience it gave me was something that I wasn't really expecting and it blew me away as a result. I knew going in that it's a "slow-paced" film, but since that term has been used to describe Solaris as well and that film just flew by for me, I didn't let that bother me too much. After watching the film, the adjective with which I would describe Stalker's pacing is "patient". I can definitely see why someone would find it boring as a result, but personally I didn't feel that way at all: the pacing allows you to soak in every element of the film and creates an experience that is just fascinating and hypnotic but also doesn't feel boring or like it's wasting any time, very much putting you in the position of its characters, and for me it definitely worked.
However, there's so much more that I loved about this film. The one aspect that I probably loved the most is its cinematography and shot composition. This film, along with Solaris, is one of the most well-shot films I've ever seen and, just like that film, uses color correction of the image and natural lighting in such a beautiful and entrancing way that, along with expert use of long takes, captures your interest for the entire runtime, and there are so many shots in this that I can perfectly visualize in my head right now because of their overall impact and their specific beauty. Another aspect that I really loved is the set design, that apparently was all filmed on location in toxic areas in Estonia (supposedly leading to early deaths for the director and some members of the cast and crew). This fact alone is just insane, but even without knowing that while watching the film the production design is absolutely incredible and completely sells you the world of the film: this wasteland in a sort of "post-apocalyptic" world (even though most of it is, smartly, left ambiguous and up to interpretation) that feels so real and almost scary at points, which, along with the dialogue, makes for so much tension in the story since you are as unsure as the characters of what could happen. In fact, if there's one aspect that completely sells you on the world of Stalker other than the production design, and that, just like in Solaris, shows how much of a master Tarkovsky is in terms of utilizing its budget and capabilities to its strengths, is the dialogue. The film is very smart in how it handles information given to the audience and is able to make the world and characters believable through that alone, then also letting the landscapes and production design speak for themselves and add to the world of the film. Every character is really interesting and well-defined and they all have layers of depth to them, and every line of dialogue is not only incredibly well-written but is particularly subtle in a way that directly appeals to your intellect, each one forcing your brain to reflect on certain things, and the dialogue overall was one of many aspects that made me not feel bored for the entire runtime since it was always incredibly interesting. Should mention also that the acting was all around really great (and I particularly commend the actors for their physical dedication in this film as well as successfully portraying their characters in the meantime), with the performances of the main character and his wife being especially amazing, they were able to display so much raw emotion in the few scenes where that was needed; and the almost "ambience-like" score was great as well, really complementing the atmosphere of the film.
Now in terms of the overall story and my interpretation of it, I'm not gonna get into it for now since it is only my first viewing but what I will say is that this aspect as well as the film in general is growing on me the more I think about it and I can't wait to see it again since I'll definitely get more out of it and probably enjoy it more. The story is simple but at the same time unpredictable and went in directions that I didn't really expect (also in the sense of overall "sequence of events" but more specifically in the sense of theme and character exploration), and there's so much substance and food for thought that I gained on this viewing and I'm sure there's plenty more for future rewatches, so I'm looking forward to re-experiencing this film a hundred more times in the future. I'll definitely have more to say about this aspect in the future but nonetheless I found it thoroughly fantastic and incredibly rewarding by the end, and I can't really think of any issues with it in this regard or any regard for that matter.
To sum it up I was blown away in pretty much every regard and I can't wait to watch this film again as well as check out the rest of Tarkovsky's filmography that I haven't seen yet (I think I'll go with "Mirror" next). He was truly a masterful director and each of his films has so much to offer and to think about as you're watching it and afterwards, creating such specifically beautiful experiences that you'll never forget and won't leave your mind for weeks after. It was honestly difficult to write this review and put my experience into words, taking much more time than I expected, but I think that more than anything speaks to the quality of this film and how much it affected me and how much I loved it, and I would highly recommend it if you're looking for an experience that will require your patience but also will leave you with plenty to think about after and that is the work of a master in every way.
I guess the thing that bugs me the most though is this: how the f*ck did this and Apocalypse Now come out in the same year?