On July 10, 1984, the Soviet film director Andrey Tarkovsky announced at a press conference in Milan, Italy, his decision to seek political asylum in the West.
Originally, Tarkovsky didn’t plan on emigrating. He only left for Italy to shoot the Soviet-Italian co-production “Nostalgia”, teaming up with his renowned Italian friend and colleague Tonino Guerra. Tarkovsky was hurt when his “Nostalgia” didn’t win any laurels at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1984. Tarkovsky put the blame on Goskino (The State Committee for Cinematography from Soviet times up until 2008), the Soviet superior cinematography agency, “I was so deeply insulted and surprised, as I was making a film about a man who couldn’t live without his home country, who was yearning away from it. Regardless, Goskino did its best to compromise me here, in the eyes of the Western cinematographers, public, and press. It made me realize, that on my coming back to the Soviet Union, not only will I be reprimanded for my film, but I am also very likely to be left unemployed altogether.”
The West was absolutely delighted by Tarkovsky’s insightful and thought-provoking films and their intricate system of visual expression. In the Soviet Union, albeit very much appreciated by adherents of art-house film, his art was very reluctantly accepted by authorities, as not fitting into the pigeonhole of the model Soviet film. In addition, the very personality of Tarkovsky, a very hard-headed and inappeasable one not prone to compromises, was not in line with the Soviet era.
Italy was very honored to receive Tarkovsky and even presented him with a six-room apartment in Florence, while in 1985, the mayor of Florence awarded Tarkovsky the title of the Honorary citizen of Florence for his film “Andrey Rublev” as a Christmas gift.
Among his other overseas honors was the grant from the Berlin Film Academy, the invitation to stage the “Boris Godunov” opera in London’s Covent Garden, and the shooting of his film “Sacrifice” in Sweden.
Nevertheless, while in exile, Tarkovsky always had severe money problems. While honored and appreciated on paper, he was never lent any material support from the Soviet officials, nor did he receive any royalties from the distribution of his films in the Soviet Union.
In Italy, Tarkovsky’s thrifty lifestyle was seen by his many celebrity friends as a sign of his peculiarity. Sophie Loren and Carlo Ponti were amazed to see a great many bowls and kettles, scattered around his apartment, respecting his extraordinary taste in interior design, while in reality such an arrangement was brought about by a more prosaic matter, such as his constantly leaking roof.
Fellini thought Tarkovsky’s habit of taking notes in a note pad instead of using a tape-recorder as his creative “quirk”, while a tape-recorder was simply a luxury for him. Marcello Mastroianni called Tarkovsky “eccentric”, as he would normally sit his guests down on the floor. Mastroianni commented, it was “like in Japan and in the East in general, where many famous Russians hail from…” oblivious of the fact that Tarkovsky was merely short of chairs.
In December of 1986, Andrey Tarkovsky died from lung cancer and was buried in Paris, in the St-Genevieve-du-Bois Russian cemetery.
After Tarkovsky’s death, Florence municipality refused to preserve Tarkovsky’s apartment as a museum, and was reluctant to pay the high maintenance costs. It was given away to the University of Florence, since neither Tarkovsky’s widow, nor anyone else, was able to provide enough money to buy out the flat and turn it into a museum.