Ivan’s Childhood – The Criterion Collection #397 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 1, 2013 by  

There are not many filmmakers who are able to hit a grand slam for their first film.   But Andrei Tarkovsky is one to achieve it.   Considering that “Ivan’s Childhood” was a film that tend to change overtime during production for Andrei Tarkovsky, its the complexity of the characters, the stunning visuals of the cinematography courtesy of Vadim Yusov and the wonderful acting of young Nikolay Burlyaev that makes “Ivan’s Childhood” a work of art.  Highly recommended!

Image are courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Ivan’s Childhood – The Criterion Collection #397 (Ivanovo detstvo)


DURATION: 95 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Russian Monaural with English subtitles


RELEASE DATE: January 22, 2013

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

Based on the story “Ivan” by Vladimir Bogomolov

Screenplay by Vladimir Bogomolov and Mikhail Papava

Music by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov

Cinematography by Vadim Yusov

Edited by Lyudmila Feiginova

Production Design by Yevgeni Chernyayev

Art Direction by Ye Chemyayaev


Nikolay Burlyaev as Ivan

Valentin Zukov as Capt. Kholin

Yevgeni Zharikov as Lt. Galtsev

Stepan Krylov as Cpl. Katasonov

Nikolay Grinko as Lt. Col. Gryaznov

Dmitri Milyutenko as Old Man

Valentina Malyavina as Masha

Irma Raush as Ivan’s Mother

The debut feature by the great Andrei Tarkovsky, Ivan’s Childhood is a poetic journey through the shards and shadows of one boy’s war-ravaged youth. Moving back and forth between the traumatic realities of World War II and serene moments of family life before the conflict began, Tarkovsky’s film remains one of the most jarring and unforgettable depictions of the impact of war on children.

For every filmmaker, there is the debut of that first film.

There are people and film critics that would say that the first film shows hints of what a filmmaker could be.  Some are just bad and the filmmaker tries to distance themselves from it.  Some are so popular that the filmmaker who loathes the popularity switches their style.  And then are those who are able to hit a grand slam and create a masterpiece.

For Soviety and Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (who would go on to directed the films “Solaris”, “Andrei Rublev”, “The Sacrifice”, “The Mirror”), his debut film from 1962 titled “Ivan’s Childhood”, based on Vladimiri Bogomolov’s 1957 short story, would be considered a masterpiece.

A film that achieved critically acclaim and the winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the film would achieve praise from filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Sergei Parajanov and a few others.

But what made “Ivan’s Childhood” so significant for its time is that many Russian films were shot of Russian prevailing in war and films that were typically directed by government selected filmmakers.  But as the Khruschev Thaw would take place and giving other filmmakers a chance to create films and boost film productivity in the country, this is where Andrei Tarkovsky would rise to prominence.

Along with films such as “The Cranes are Flying” and “Ballad of a Soldier”, films like “Ivan’s Childhood” would show the human cost of war and the pain and emotional suffering one encounters.

But much different is Andrei Tarkovsky’s complexity when it came to his characters which he takes them from dreamlike worlds to devastating reality but also touted for its intelligence, storytelling and cinematography. In the case of “Ivan’s Childhood”, it was a film focused on one young boy’s ravaged youth.

The film became one of Tarkovsky’s most commercially successful film, selling over 16.7 million tickets in the Soviet Union.  The film would showcase the collaboration between Tarkovsky and cinematographer Vadim Yusov, a collaboration which first began with Tarkovsky’s diploma film “The Steamroller and the Violin” in 1961.  But the film would show the visual strengths of their collaboration for cinema.

As “Ivan’s Childhood” was released on DVD from the Criterion Collection back in 2007, the film will be released on Blu-ray in 2013.

“Ivan’s Childhood” takes place on the Easter Front during World War II in which the Soviet army is fighting against the invading German Wehrmacht.  We are introduced to a boy named Ivan Bondarev (portrayed by Nikolai Burlyayev) and we see a happier time in his life, but then to see something bad happen to his mother.  When he awakes, he realizes he was dreaming.

The 12-year-old Soviet boy crosses through a swamp which attracts artillery and he swims across the river in which he is seized by Russian soldier.

Ivan is taken to the young Lt. Galtsev (as portrayed by Evgeny Zharikov) and immediately Ivan tells him he has a message for No. 51 and he must contact headquarters immediately.  At first Lt. Galtsev thinks Ivan is pulling his leg, but when Ivan brings up names of high-ranking officers, he realizes that the boy may be telling the truth.  He makes a call to Lt.-Colonel Gryaznov (portrayed by Nikolai Grinko) and Lt. Galtsev is told to have keep Ivan calm because of his hot temper but also to give him a pencil and paper but most importantly, to treat him well.  And so, Lt. Galtsev does just that.

When Ivan goes to sleep, he begins having dreams of his family  and through these flashbacks we learn what happened to his family and how they were killed by German soldiers and he is the only one left.   He was able to escape from being killed and joined a group of Partisans, but when the group was in trouble, Ivan was put on a plane in which he is sent to boarding school.  But he escaped and he met Lt.-Colonel Gryaznov, keeping eye on German movement and literally be part of intelligence for the Soviet Army.

When Lt.-Colonel Gryaznov comes to pick up Ivan, Ivan is given news that he is no longer needed on the battlefield and he will be attending military school.  But Ivan resists and tells Gryaznov that if he is put in a school, he will just runaway.  Trying to find ways to show his worth to the Soviet Army for intelligence but most importantly, so he can get his revenge against the Germans for the death of his family.

But when Gryaznov is adamant that Ivan will be attending military school, Ivan takes matters to his own hands by escaping from the Soviet Army and joining with the Partisans.  So, he can finally get his revenge against the Germans and those killed at Maly Trostenets extermination camp.

Meanwhile, Lt. Galtsev is trying to protect the army nurse Masha (portrayed by Valentina Mayavina), but one day, Captain Kholin tries to make his moves on her, which Galtsev becomes jealous.  And as this love triangle develops, both Kholin and Galtsev know they must work together.

But will the young Ivan find a way to get his revenge against the Germans?


“Ivan’s Childhood” is presented in black and white and 1080p High Definition (1:33: aspect ratio).  Having watched the 2007 Criterion Collection DVD, back then you thought what Criterion Collection accomplished was the best picture quality at the time.  Prior to watching this Blu-ray, I expected contrast for the whites and grays to be fantastic (which they are) and much better detail (which they also are).  But it’s this 4K digital transfer that really brings out the richness of the overall look of the film.

It’s really hard to use the word pristine for a film of this age, but it is.  The Criterion Collection has cleaned up this film to the point that there is no blemishes, the cinematography by Vadim Yusov looks better than ever and this is the best I have seen of this film by far.

According to the Criterion Collection, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 4K from a 35 mm fine-grain master positive.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and jitter were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise reduction and flicker.


“Ivan’s Childhood” is presented in Russian LPCM 1.0 monaural with optional English subtitles.  Overall, lossless audio for this monaural track is crisp and clear and I did not hear any problematic issues during my viewing of this film.

According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.


“Ivan’s Childhood – The Criterion Collection #397” comes with the following special features:

  • Life as a Dream– (30:36) A 2007 interview with film scholar and writer Vida T. Johnson who talks about the films of Andrei Tarkovsky but the significance of “Ivan’s Childhood” on his work and his challenge against socialist realism.
  • Nikolia Burlyaev – (45:33) A 2007 interview featuring actor Nikolai Burlyaev talking about his role as Ivan and discussing the lead role, screen tests, finding tears, the shoot and true patriot.
  • Vadim Yusov – An interview from 2007 featuring cinematographer Vadim Yusov and discussing his work vs. Andre Tarkovsky.  Plus discussion of the visual language, preparations, dreams and texture of “Ivan’s Childhood”.


“Ivan’s Childhood – The Criterion Collection #397” comes with an 30-page booklet with the following essay, “Dream Come True” by Dina Jordanova and “Between Two Films” by Andrei Tarkovsky.

As a person who enjoys Andrei Tarkovsky films, “Ivan’s Childhood” is a film that is brilliant.

First and foremost, it’s one thing to have a wonderful collaboration with a cinematographer who captures what you want and for Tarkovsky and Vadim Yusov, the two have wonderful chemistry when it comes to making a film.

But for “Ivan’s Childhood”, the film literally rests on the shoulders of young talent Nikolay Burlyaev.  This is a film that must capture a boy that has been changed to tragedy and war.  He has seen many deaths and his thirst of revenge has hardened his resolve to achieve nothing but revenge against the Germans.  Instead of being safe and attending a school, he chooses to be on the front lines.  May it be to help the Soviet Army with intelligence or joining the Partisans and fighting the Germans, even if it means that he will die.

But it’s the way that Tarkovsky captures Ivan through the film.  From dreams of a wonderful time with family, with the trees using a reversed negative and riding with his dead sister in a truck bed full of apples to the serene beach to where horses can feast on the dropped apples and then having him wake up to a miserable land where buildings have been destroyed, there is nothing but trunks of trees, swamp land with an occasional partisan hung as a warning to those who defy the Germans.

While watching this film, it did make me think of Roberto Rossellini’s “Germany Year Zero” (1948) about a boy who tries to survive in obliterated Berlin.  But as that film was a daring look at the consequences of fascism and society to an individual, “Ivan’s Childhood” was a film about a 12-year-old who has been tempered by death.  This is a boy who has suffered unbelievable psychological trauma.

No one knows the true extent of how bad life has been for Ivan but the fact that he has keen awareness of death camps such as the Maly Trostenets, a Nazi death camp to house Soviet prisoners of war and a camp where over 206,000 people were murdered.

This is a boy who saw unbelievable tragedy, who had daily nightmares of his family being executed and a boy who lived with nothing, alone, dirty and trying to survive anyway he can.  His only link to life is through the Soviet soldiers he is helping.  But when they want him to be safe and put him to military school, Ivan finds this to be a slap in the face to a boy who wants nothing but revenge against the Germans for what they did to his family.

What is amazing is the imagery of the film, the way that characters are positioned artistically.  For one image, Ivan is seen as broken timber beams are pointing towards him.  Another scene in a dream where his mother and him are looking inside a well and he drops a feather, as she explains to him about how they can see twinkling of stars in the water.

While the film does provide a love triangle storyline (which Tarkovsky did not want but the government/producers had him include it), the love triangle probably doesn’t mean so much to the film, but more or less of establishing the characters of Capt. Kholin and Lt. Galtsev.

Lt. Galsev may be a young leader but it’s his growing distaste of Capt. Kholin who is a man that has been told by his superiors, that he needs to grow up.  While Yevgeni Zharikov may look a bit young to play a Lt., it probably is plausible during the war as many soldiers were killed or were held captive for Germans.   But these two along with Masha, provide an interesting break from Ivan, especially during a scene in which Capt. Kholin takes Masha to the woods.  All you see are trunks of trees and him trying to take advantage of Masha, while Lt. Galsev runs to look for her and make sure Capt. Kholin does not get close to her.

But in the end, it’s the acting of the young Nikolay Burlyaev that makes this film work.  His acting as a child was fantastic and he is able to make the film more compelling but absolutely heartbreaking, when you learn more about his past.  It’s one thing to show action, but this young actor is able to show pain just from his eyes alone.

As for the Blu-ray release, having owned the 2007 Criterion Collection DVD release, picture quality alone, the Blu-ray is fantastic.  A wonderful 4K digital transfer, the contrast of the blacks and whites are fantastic and the detail seen on the Blu-ray is impressive.  Lossless audio of the monaural soundtrack is crisp and both picture and audio quality is pristine without any errors that can be seen or heard.    While I wish there were more special features, including a commentary, it’s still a Blu-ray that is worth owning and for previous DVD owners, worth upgrading to.

Overall, there are not many filmmakers who are able to hit a grand slam for their first film.   But Andrei Tarkovsky is one to achieve it.   Cnsidering that “Ivan’s Childhood” was a film that tend to change overtime during production for Andrei Tarkovsky, its the complexity of the characters, the stunning visuals of the cinematography courtesy of Vadim Yusov and the wonderful acting of young Nikolay Burlyaev that makes “Ivan’s Childhood” a work of art.

Highly recommended!

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