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Solaris 1972 *****

Andrei Tarkovsky is a fairly unique proposition as a director in that his films are so consistent; the Russian director only made masterpieces, and Solaris is probably his best known. Adapted from the 1962 book by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris is a sci-fi epic, although for Tarkovsky that doesn’t mean cute robots and fireballs, but at least ninety minutes of people standing in fields reciting poetry to each other before the action leaves earth. Patience is rewarded, and once psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) gets into space, the reflection gives way to a confrontation with ghostly figures from the pasta and the future. These are generated by Solaris, a sentient planet below the space station Kelvin inhabits, and the alien contact he experiences is closely related to his own personal experience. As philosophical as sci-fi gets, Solaris is a meditation, difficult but rewarding; it’s notable that Steven Soderberg’s remake with George Clooney, well-intentioned as it is, don’t have the same narrative pull; somehow it’s the lengthy gaps between the words that make Tarkovsky’s vision so enduring.

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