Ivan’s Childhood: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Ivan's Childhood - www,whysoblu.comThe 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.  


Ivan's Childhood - www.whysoblu.com



Ivan’s Childhood is the story of a young Russian Boy who is part of the Russian military fighting the Nazis during WWII. Young Ivan has lost his family to the war against the regime and only has memories of the past to comfort him. He now spends his days as a hardened reconnaissance scout who ventures out well into enemy lines to retrieve valuable information back to his unit. Yes, he’s 12 and a recon scout. Ivan is definitely a fearless lad. Between scenes of plot procedurals we get intermittent scenes of Ivan being a kid and being with his mother while having fun just being a kid. These scenes are sprinkled throughout the film.

Nikolay Burlyaev, who plays Ivan, gives one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen. Ivan is so war weary and torn about what has happened to his family that he only lives for revenge against Nazi Germany. There’s a scene in the film where his soldier friends are showing him a book and the characters in them are essentially the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Ivan says they’re Germans. They also tell him about German writers and he quickly dismisses the notion of German writers, because he witnessed firsthand the burning of books and how the soot smell stained the air for a long time.

When watching Ivan navigate the war torn landscape you do forget that you’re watching a kid but because Ivan is a hardened soldier at 12, fearless too, it’s like you’re watching a man and the horrible world man has created for himself. There is one scene in the middle of the film where the room Ivan is staying is bombed by German forces and his comrades come to see if he’s alright and Ivan is just standing there stoic and replies with: “I’m not afraid.” Indeed he is not.

There is a subplot involved in the film that revolves around two of Ivan’s comrades and a pretty female medical assistant named Masha that the soldiers are trying to win over. As I was watching these scenes in particular I had the notion that it was a set of dream sequences but in actuality is only a red herring of sorts. Some of the visuals are amazing, though. The kiss over the trench is a great composition and then the soldiers listening to the song “Masha” on the old record player give it a cool quality before we resume our normally scheduled program with Ivan.

Another “character” that I forgot to mention that steals the show in  Ivan’s Childhood is the cinematography. There are so many gorgeous compositions – some fill the screen with layers of information without it turning into a busy and cluttered mess. Set design, especially the scenes of destruction like the iconic wooden shards that look like they’re about to swallow Ivan are impressive. The way the trees, water, are lit is really evocative and I would not be surprised if Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam were not inspired in some way by Ivan’s Childhood. 

It did take me a while to finally getting around to watching Ivan’s Childhood on Blu-ray and I’m glad I did. The film is a masterpiece and not many directors can claim that on their first feature films. This is a testament to Tarkovsky. If you haven’t seen Ivan’s Childhood then you should rectify that immediately. 


Ivan's Childhood - www.whysoblu.com



Ivan’s Childhood is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. On widescreen televisions, black bars will appear on the left and right of the image to maintain the proper screen format. 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 has received a whole lotta love in the video department – not a single scratch or fine grain particle was seen out of place. Even during the gritty war scenes Ivan’s Childhood retains a powerful and beautiful looking image highlighting the Blu-ray format. This is what it’s all about when it comes to restoring and remastering black and white films. Grain structure is consistent throughout the entire film and contrast is never boosted or artificially enhanced in any way. Sharpness levels are kept in check, and black levels never crush. Flesh tones appear as natural as can be and fine detail is exquisite. It’s not my thing but you can actually taste the dirt. Like the film itself, this is a flawless transfer.

Ivan's Childhood - www.whysoblu.com


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 is presented in lossless mono at 2.8 mbps, if memory serves me correctly. Dialogue is sharp and crystal clear. Even during the scenes of sporadic gunfire and destruction, dialogue is never turned down or distorted. Eerything blends in quite nicely – especially for being a monaural driven audio track. Clipping, hissing, and distortion are absent, as well. This is a very above average audio presentation.

Ivan's Childhood - www.whysoblu.com


Not necessarily a packed-to-the-brim package but what is included is very worthy and interesting. We have an interview with a film scholar and then two separate interviews with the lead child-actor (now and adult 50 years later!) and the film’s cinematographer. The latter interviews have been broken down into segments as opposed to one long interview each. Each segment runs for minutes at a time and the interview with the film scholar runs at about 30 minutes. Not bad at all.

  • Interview with film scholar Vida T. Johnson, co-author of The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue 
  • Interviews with cinematographer Vadim Yusov and actor Nikolai Burlyaev
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Diane Iordanova; “Between Two Films,” an essay by Tarkovsky on Ivan’s Childhood; and “Ivan’s Willow,” a poem by the director’s father, Arsemy Tarkovsky


Ivan's Childhood - www.whysoblu.com


Shame on me for not being familiar with Andrei Tarkovsky’s films but what a way to get started on that. His first film, and he knocks it out of the park with a masterpiece. Ivan’s Childhood is a a tremendous film that should be required viewing for students of film and for those that just want to see a great story on film. This Blu-ray features a stellar video presentation, above average audio, and more than adequate special features. Criterion have done well by this title. Bravo!



Order Ivan’s Childhood on Blu-ray!

Ivan's Childhood - www.whysoblu.com




Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

2 Responses to “Ivan’s Childhood: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    I think I fell asleep looking at that cover 🙂

  2. Sean Ferguson

    It’s good to see another Criterion review!