As a genre, the making-of documentary is down near the very bottom of where you'd expect to find genuine artistic inspiration. At their worst, these are absolutely nothing but promotional puff pieces, and even when they are impressively packed with interesting and rare information, presented in a clear and engaging way (my mind immediately goes to Laurent Bouzereau's exhaustive films about Steven Spielberg - his film about the making of Jaws is longer than Jaws itself), they're mostly bluntly informational - they are not, in and of themselves, terribly interesting as film art.

It was with this biased opinion in mind that I settled down in front of Voyage in Time, a very particular kind of making-of documentary: one made by the same people as the film it's documenting. And that should have been my tip-off: Andrei Tarkovsky, one of the two credited directors of Voyage in Time, is quite possibly the last filmmaker other than David Lynch that you should expect to give you a nice, tidy explanation of his process in a boring, artless way. Lo and behold, I learned virtually nothing about the pre-production of 1983's Nostalghia from these 62 minutes, because Voyage in Time was far too focused on being good, instead.

The film was shot during Tarkovsky's first trip to Italy, when he and Tonino Guerra (the other credited director; it is, in fact, his only directing credit) had completed a first draft of the script for Nostalghia (the bound script, under that title, puts in a cameo very near the end), and were touring the countryside looking for good locations to film it. This would have been, if I follow the history correctly, late in 1979; it seems to have played on Italian television shortly before Nostalghia's release to Italian theaters in June 1983, a few weeks after it premiered at Cannes. I imagine that producing this documentary was one of the contingencies for Tarkovsky to receive funding from RAI, Italy's state-owned television broadcasting company, to make his theatrically-released feature; but maybe not, maybe he was for reasons of his own eager to record his filmmaking philosophies for posterity. After all, it was around this period that he started working on Sculpting in Time, the book in which he discusses the reasons he made some of the choices we see in his films. Voyage in Time, though slightly more opaque than that book, feels very much part of the same overall project.

This is more about broad filmmaking philosophies than specific choices. The basic unit of the film is a dialogue: Guerra and Tarkovsky meet at the former's house, where he throws questions at the director that trigger lengthy musings about art in general, film art specifically, the artists who have influenced himself and why (the only Russian he names is Dovzhenko, before launching into a list of major Western European filmmakers including Jean Vigo, Federico Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni - noting with a big grin that Tonino himself was a major part of why the great L'avventura turned out the way it did, Tarkovsky instantly humanises himself as a big ol' fanboy in a way I was not at all expecting). This has, obiviously, been staged for the camera, at least in part: there's a credit for Gina La Monica as providing Tarkovsky's dubbed voice, which is a tell and then some that this has been constructed by the filmmakers, rather than simply capturing the off-the cuff, unvarnished truth. But it has the feel of casual philosophical brainstorming, and Tarkovsky's loose, relaxed body language makes one feel like we're getting a pretty clear statement of his artistic worldview, even if it's not as spontaneous as it seems.

Similarly, it's very clearly shot and directed, though at this point I'm not quite sure by whom. A visual trick that the film plays multiple times is to zoom unobtrusively into a much closer framing of Tarkovsky, to emphasise the moments when he's thinking, and it has an unfailing tendency to end up at perfect compositions. At which point I shall reveal that Voyage in Time was shot by the great Luciano Tovoli, whose most impressive art film credit is clearly Antonioni's The Passenger, but whose foremost work in my heart shall always be Dario Argento's Suspiria. Though, admittedly, The Passenger is more germane to what he's doing here, with its careful strategy for carving a human body out of rooms and altering our relationship to the subject gradually but visibly enough that the shifting frame is itself part of our emotional response to the composition. The point being, Voyage in Time is a documentary shot like an art film, so much so that I'd almost be willing to claim that Tovoli deserves his own share of the director credit - without him, the film is just listening to an amazing filmmaker shoot the shit, but with him, it becomes a psychological study in its own right.

And that, in fact, is what's chiefly fascinating about Voyage in Time, to me: not what we learn about Tarkovsky's tastes, his artistic philosophy, or even his filmmaking strategies (the last of these barely even registers as a topic, anyway; the closest we come is when he argues that the characters in Nostalghia would gravitate towards uglier places than the locations he's been seeing), but how it functions as a different version of a Tarkovsky fiction film. It's not merely a film about preparing to shoot Nostalghia; it is, in and of itself, a dry run for Nostalghia's psychologically subjective, memory-based narrative. The film keeps sliding between locations and moments in time: the very title (the Italian translates more literally as something like "time of travel"; I do not know what, if any, idiomatic meaning it might have) points to movement in time as something more profound than movement in space. The visits to locations end up feeling like Tarkovsky's imagination, or memories, or hope for the future; it feels like a place being visited subjectively during the chat in Guerra's home, to which the film always ends up circling back. It is almost the opposite of the film it's looking forward to: Nostalghia offers the feeling of always being in the past, while Voyage in Time is more like always being in the present. But the crucial thing is the fluidity, the way that time is unstable and blending into itself according to the subjectivity of the film's protagonist. That the protagonist is a real person, who is himself the director of this film, offers a layer of metanarrative complexity, maybe, but that doesn't feel important while you're watching it. The most interesting thing about it, rather, is that it suggests how Tarkovsky's own mental state is reflected in his films. Something we could rather easily guess from Nostalghia or Mirror before it, but having such a vivid confirmation of that fact, in such a splendidly elliptical and abstract manipulation of documentary form, is a distinct treat.