If you enjoy film in an even slightly serious way, you've surely heard the name Andrei Tarkovsky brought up dozens and dozens of times, sometimes — or, if you run in cinephilic circles, invariably — in the context of vertiginously high praise. Film-lovers worship Tarkovsky, as do many other filmmakers: no less an auteur than Ingmar Bergman called him "the best of them all" (after dismissing Godard as "affected" and Hitchcock as "infantile"), "the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream."
Other artists, too, have paid Tarkovsky tribute: Geoff Dyer devoted an entire book not to the director's career, but to just one of his movies, Stalker (see its original trailer above). As we told you five years ago, and it deserves repeating again, you can watch Stalker (here) free online, along with other major Tarkovsky films. Stalker alone can give you a powerful sense of just why the seven feature films Tarkovsky left behind when he died in 1986 have only drawn more accolades over time. And it will perhaps whet your appetite to start watching four other Tarkovsky films free online on this page, including his 15th-century Russian icon-painter biopic (to only partially describe it) Andrei Rublev and his Stanislaw Lem adaptation (and "answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey") Solaris.
You can also watch 1975's Mirror, which some Tarkovsky enthusiasts consider his greatest work. If you do watch it, bear in mind the Bergman quote above: if the best of all filmmakers won that title by rendering life as a dream, then it only stands to reason that Mirror, the most dreamlike of all his work, would rise to the top of his filmography. It will make you understand why, despite the hundreds and thousands of pages on Tarkovsky's work written by critics, academics, and pure fans, you can only appreciate these films through direct experience. As with the difficulty of describing a dream compellingly in words, text can't do justice to Tarkovsky, but when you watch one of his cinematic dreams, you dream it along with him — and like the most vivid dreams, fragments of them will stick with you forever.
Note: The Tarkovsky films listed above were put online by the official Youtube channel of Mosfilm, the studio for which Tarkovsky made the films.
Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.