Review: The Steamroller and the Violin

Tarkovsky negotiates the easing of class struggles through the friendship between artist and worker.

The Steamroller and the Violin
Photo: Artkino Pictures

1960’s The Steamroller and the Violin was Andrei Tarkovsky’s thesis film at the Soviet State Film School. At first glance, the film doesn’t particularly look and feel like a Tarkovsky film though there’s no mistaking the effortless poetry of its visual aesthetic. Sasha (Igor Fomchenko), a seven-year-old Russian youth, is picked on by the children of his town for playing the violin. One day, he’s rescued by steamroller operator Sergei (Vladimir Zamansky) and a profound friendship is born. Sasha plays music for his older friend and Sergei protects the young boy from bullies and empowers him by allowing him to ride his steamroller. Before a local building is torn to pieces (thus exposing the sight of a new Russia, here symbolized as a blinding temple), Sasha and Sergei’s friendship is representative of a free exchange of ideas. Sasha’s teacher doesn’t encourage the boy’s passion when he begins to sway from side to side as he plays his violin. “Don’t get carried away,” she says to the heartbroken child. Sergei allows the boy to play as he desires and by letting him ride his steamroller, Sasha becomes a symbol of strength to the children around him. Not only is he a musician, he is now a worker. The film can be read as a children’s film yet Tarkovsky is clearly commenting on the communist rift between art and labor. If Sasha’s teacher is resistant—if not wholly fearful—of the child’s power, Tarkovsky negotiates the easing of class struggles through the friendship between artist and worker. The film’s strikingly sweet though certainly unsentimental lyricism feels as if it exists in the imagination of a child. The film does indeed end inside Sasha’s head once his mother refuses to let him see Sergei. Once again the boy meets resistance but now he can dream of steamrollers and, in turn, the promise of a freer tomorrow.

 Cast: Igor Fomchenko, Vladimir Zamansky, Marina Adzhubei, Yuri Brusser, Vyacheslav Borisov, Aleksandr Vitoslavsky, Aleksandr Ilyin, Lyudmila Semyonova, Natalya Arkhangelskaya  Director: Andrei Tarkovsky  Screenwriter: Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrei Tarkosvky  Distributor: Artkino Pictures  Running Time: 45 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1960  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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