on September 7, 2002
Insanely overlong, maddeningly opaque, visually striking but bleak, violent, stark--this would be a very easy movie on which to let the tiger out of the cage. But it also has a great reputation, both among cinephiles in general and among conservatives and the religious. So one is willing to give it more chances than it might otherwise deserve. And if you do stick with it until its final third or so, the rewards are bounteous.
Andrei Tarkovsky tells the story of the great 15th Century icon painter, Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn), in a series of vignettes. The film opens with a famous scene of a man being dragged aloft by an escaping hot air balloon. He soars overhead beckoning the people bellow to follow him, but they can't or don't. Much of the rest of the film is taken up with Rublev's wanderings about Rus (old Russia) during a time of paganism, plague, poverty and marauding Tartars. Rublev is so disturbed by what he sees and by one violent reaction of his own, that he retreats into silence and gives up his artistry. But the final episode that he witnesses, which really makes the film, restores his faith and revives his desire to create art.
In this last story a young man, the son of a bell maker, convinces a noble's men that he can cast a great bell for them, that his father has handed down the secrets of the trade to him. But as the work progresses the boy, Boriska, makes missteps and squabbles with the workmen who served his father. At one point he is in desperate need of clay to fortify the mold for the bell, but can't find earth of the right consistency anywhere. Then fate intervenes and, chasing a lost shoe, he slides down a hill into a muddy patch of just the right kind of clay. Insisting that he be given a precise mix of precious metals, teetering on the edge of exhaustion, Boriska drives himself until the bell is done. Amazingly, when freed from its mold it proves beautiful and the tone it produces rings true. Only then does the boy reveal how truly miraculous it is that such beauty has arisen from the mud because his father died with the secrets unspoken and Boriska was actually learning as he went. In the end he got by on little more than faith. Rublev, who in this section as in most of the others is more a spectator than a player, goes to the boy and breaking his silence urges the boy to come with him and cast church bells while he, Rublev, will paint icons to adorn the walls. In particular, Rublev has been asked by Abbott Nikon of Radonezh of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Moscow to paint an icon commemorating the prior abbot, St. Sergius of Radonezh.
All that has gone before is in black and white, but in the last images of the film Tarkovsky shows color details of Rublev's greatest work, the Icon of the Holy Trinity (1410), based on Genesis 18, when the Trinity is understood to have appeared to Abraham :
1: And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
2: And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door,
and bowed himself toward the ground,
3: And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
4: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
5: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant.
And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
6: And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes
upon the hearth.
7: And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
8: And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree,
and they did eat.
9: And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.
10: And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. .
Obviously the director is telling us that the themes he has been exploring in Rublev's life, about which little is actually known, have come together in this magnificent artwork. As always with Mr. Tarkovsky, it's difficult to impose precise meanings on his narrative, but some of the ideas we can trace include the idea that the artist, though he must get down in the muck and experience life, must at least in his art rise above and lead the rest if humanity. The Trinity with its mysterious unity may also represent the necessary unifying of the various strata of the society that Rublev encountered--the wealthy nobles, the impoverished peasants, the churchmen who uneasily occupy the middle ground, perhaps even the Tartars. The painting and the film are certainly both invitations to us to join with the Trinity in the unity of love that they offer. On a more personal level the struggle of Boriska to create a bell on his own, without access to his father's wisdom, apparently represents Tarkovsky's own belief that each generation must discover artistic truths for itself. On all these levels, and many more that I'm sure eluded me, the film communicates its fascinating and beautiful ideas to us, so long as we've the patience to let it unwind to the end.
GRADE : A
on May 22, 2004
Andrei Rubliov is the masterpiece of Andrei Tarkovsky. I 've watched very carefullly all his works, and Andrei contains the quintessential thought of this unique film maker.
What Tarkovsky made with this film may be one the most overwhelming and haunting achievemnts in all the story of the world cinema.
Rubliov is a icon painter who after an important fac, decides not continue in that office.
The powerful of the barbarian invassion into a church, where he acquires the human experience gets far away the world, he isolates and becomes in a wanderer.
The unforgettable images that appear before the viewer are of a trascendental poetic beauty never seen before and even now.
All the journey along the Russia of XVI century is a reflexive gaze of the human condition , the sense of the life and how dealing with it, the unsaid code of one must behavior humanly, even in inhuman conditions, facing the world, with his singleness, its little moments of joy, his infinite sadness and its miseries.
The opening sequence in which the fall is shown before us, is a original metaphor of how facing with the failure; and is depicted with such kind of beautiness that mesmerizes you. No other film n the story, with the exception of the ending of A man escapes from Robert Bresson reveals with so frehness and vitality the epic sense before the life.
When Rubliov knows this teenager, in the final chapter, and faces with him the huge challenge that implies to make the asgned mission, turns back çRubliov and it invites him to keep on going in his mission or the moira term greek, his place in the universe, his meaning in this brief stage in the world.
This superb masterpiece, has countless remarkable sequences, the dialogues are feed of a blissness and poetic raprure without a drop of effectism.
When the mission is completed, and everybody celebrates the fact our young hero remains alone and Rubliov will gather with him and will tell wisdom words that I must not tell.
This is the goal of the artist; he must go to the forrest and seek the mushrooms; the people will be just waiting from the safe place for him; and no matter how dangerous or hazardous be the journey; they only expect for your bag. They will consume these gifts; but the creator must seek them.
Tarkovsky was in the middle of the creative universe (remeber his father Arseni Tarkovsky was a poet)in 1966; the script has an inner mytical force ; and every bit of this film is sublime, perfect.
Tarkovsky showed what many film makers haven't been able to do; express with a camera such landscape of images, in all his whole meaning.
Andrei Rubliov will be always a landmark ; an eternal triumph ; a epic statement that will be with all of us till the end of our lives.
And even more.
on April 26, 2004
Andrei Rublev is probably the greatest looking film of all time. It was shot on a Konvas (you can pick one up on Ebay for $1000) and film students will be stunned by what has been achieved in terms of cinematography with such an old and dated 35mm motion picture camera. It is inspirational in terms of film-making and this is the core reason why you should watch the film. If you are interested in Kino Art then Andrei Rublev can probably lay claim to the greatest art film ever made. If you are looking to experiment with Tarvoksky, then Andrei Rublev is not a bad place to start.
Like most of Tarkovsky's films, Andrei Rublev is extremely artistic, conjectures much on the human condition, metaphysics and Russian life - that all seem to have some hidden meanings that contains the film's truth that Tarkovsky expounds on - namely the wickedness of men and the temptations that they face. It is also about triumph of the will and the nature of man. This is all done via the "narrative" and the look of the film. Tarkovsky mixes moments of dialogue about the metaphysical (a doctrine that would continue to be a theme in all of this other films giving a sense of what was to come - especially the intricateness of Stalker, Solaris), arrestingly simple and slow cinematography (his trademark water shots), complex action sequences (there are full scale battles like from a Kurosawa movie) and visionary set designs (15th century villages, towns and cities). This is Tarkovsky's biggest film ever (and quite possibly the biggest Russian film ever).
The premise is complex. Andrei Rublev, a monk with the gift of painting, is invited to paint churches around the country and in Moscow. Between travelling from job to job he encounters - monks who have lost their faith, monks with too much faith in themselves, fools who are imprisoned for their beliefs, Wicca festivals (the pagan ceremonies of St. John's night), murder, torture (the Russian crucifixion), death, error, the sacking of towns by the Tartars (the sacking of Vladimir), vows of silence and of course the most striking final piece of the film - the making of the bell (the casting of the bell). Characters appear and disappear (a cinematic technique found in The Thin Red Line), but there is also a lot of hidden imagery (every time you watch it you find something new), in particular scenes of novice monks putting dirt on their cheeks which makes no sense at the time yet later on we seen Andrei put the same dirt as a stain on a church he has painted because of the bureaucratic blinding of artists (an extremely violent scene of which there are many. As a note: Andrei Rublev happens to be an extremely violent film and there are several disturbing scenes. Also a scene where a horse falls down a stairs was cut because of animal cruelty but this has been restored for the DVD). All of these scenes are done via several chapters that each tells a story in which Andrei Rublev is present either as the central character of focus, a participant or an observer. If you pay close attention to the chapters you will realize that the themes of each chapter are contained in all the chapters. Tarvoksky plays with the audience in so many ways that you can only hope to watch the film again and again until you make ALL of the connections. You will likely not see a more striking film for imagery. The ending is obviously what got Kubrick working on his trip scene in 2001. Tarkovsky returned a nod by filming Solaris.
Andrei Rublev is shot in monochrome although the ending does a little Wizard of Oz for us. The story is divided between two discs. You have 86 minutes in the first disc and 99 in the second for a grand running time of 185 minutes. This DVD is PRICEY but this is Kino Art at its finest and worth every penny. The extras are many and there are some very important historical interviews about Tarkovsky. However I will say that DVD is totally unsuitable for Tarkovsky's films and possibly you will do better to watch a widescreen video or even better a 35mm print of the film in the cinema next time it comes to town. Even though the transfer is sublime for a 1966 picture (a Russian one at that) and there has been a lot of digital correction, the DVD produces artefacts on nearly all of Tarkovsky's films because of his complex imagery, but this is just quibbling and is not the fault of the DVD producers. Tarkovsky has simply exceeded the limits of what DVD mpeg compression can handle, even after this film is spanned over 2 discs... and that says a lot about the quality of this man's vision.
Kino Art does not come much better than Andrei Rublev.
on April 8, 2004
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film. This film, like many of Tarkovsky's movies are slow-paced. This may bore some, but Tarkovsky viewed many his films as a form of art as opposed to entertainment.
Most people like movies that entertain, but not all films do that. I am a longtime fan of Russian cinema and find this to be a good example of "art house" cinema.
This movie contains some scenes that some persons may find unsettling. There is a scene where a man kicks a dog to death, a scene of a horse falling down a set of stairs breaking its leg, and another where a cow is on fire. There is also nudity.
The film itself was banned in the Soviet Union, but later released in a heavily cut version. The film has many religious references and quotes from the Bible. (The subtitles on the Criterion Collection DVD use the King James Version for translation of the Bible which is my favorite.)
The film follows the story of real life 14th-15th century icon painter Andrei Rublev. Not knowing too much about him, I cannot give a clear comparison between the film and his life. The movie is well photographed and has an excellend full color sequence at the end of the film showing his acutal paintings.
The Criterion Collection DVD has numerous special features.
Interview with director Andrei Tarkovsky, Improved Subtitles, A timeline showing events of Russian history, and the works and life events of Andrei Rublev and Tarkovsky. There is also a partial length audio essay during certain chapters on the DVD track that conform with the scenes the narrator is talking about.
The booklet lists these tracks so one would not need to view the whole film to search for the commentary.
on December 6, 2003
I had never seen a Tarkovsky film before "Andrei Rublev", but I intend to see more. This film was *very* different, but very good, and I was moved by it on many different levels.
Set in Russia in the early 15th century, this film is based on the life of Andrei Rublev, an icon painter and arguably Russia's first great artist. It's told in a series of vignettes that don't always focus on Rublev; many times he is either a background observer or not involved at all. He is a device that Tarkovsky uses to tell a grander tale, a tale about art, life, humanity, history, faith, good, evil and other philosophical ideas that most filmmakers fear like the plague. This film is much more than a historical epic, it is a work of art, and possibly more than that a path to enlightenment.
Like many of the greatest directors, Tarkovsky is more than just a filmmaker. He is an ARTIST, possibly more so than any director I've ever encountered. For example, most directors use techniques like music and editing to elicit specific emotions from the audience, but Tarkovsky uses few to no manipulative devices. Scenes are typically wide, sweeping, epic shots, which often linger for up to several minutes. The viewer is allowed to absorb the situation and the imagery, to internalize them and let them sink into the subconscious. If one is still and contemplative, one will enter into a dialogue with the film and begin to experience it on a higher level.
The film lacks a tightly knit plot, and there's no pat morality tale. Rather it is LIFE, boiled down to its essence. Scenes feel real, and often play out in real time according to the rhythm of life. Characters will sit and wait, and we wait with them. Incidents unfold in real time, with no cuts and nothing edited. Tarkovsky uses the natural world a great deal. For instance, a character will chance upon the carcass of a snow-white egret mired in the swamp, or a somber procession will scale a snowy embankment where the mud has bled through like a pair of weeping eyes.
It's a work of art, I've established that, but I also love the historical setting. Fifteenth century Russia was grim and unforgiving. Orthodox Christianity was the official religion, but paganism was still commonplace. Boyars, kings and princes frequently skirmished with one another. Tartars from the south took advantage of the regional instability to sack villages and cities. Plague and sickness were rampant, and the vast majority of people lived in abject poverty. But the so-called "Dark Ages" were nearly at an end. Art and ideas from West were steadily infiltrating the East. Rublev himself was inspired by a Greek painter named Theophanes, a relationship depicted in the film. Tarkovsky captures the period perfectly in "Andrei Rublev", and to me it seems like the next thing to being there.
Having said ALL that, I cannot in good conscience recommend this film to most people. Here are all the reasons a modern filmgoer probably would not like "Andrei Rublev": it was filmed in black and white; it's old (originally released in 1966); it's long (the unedited Criterion release is nearly 3 and a 1/2 hours); it's in Russian with subtitles; at least one animal was brutally killed during the filming (for which there is NO excuse - shame on Tarkovsky); scenes linger for several minutes without cuts or editing; it's arty (though not pretentious); it's very difficult to understand; it requires repeated viewings and you may never fully "get it"; it's told in a series of vignettes with only a loose overarching narrative; etc., etc. If none of that scares you off, you should definitely check it out, because it's a real gem.
on July 25, 2003
Andrei Rublev is a unique and challenging masterpiece set in Medieval Russia, loosely based on the life of a real monk renowned for his Icon paintings. Starkly and beautifully photographed in black and white, its austere settings and classic compositions as well as its depiction of an earlier, simpler Christian faith struggling amid paganism, cruelty and barbarism in those brutish times, reminded me of and compared favorably to Bergman's similar explorations in The Virgin Spring and The Seventh Seal. Tarkovsky's film, however,is completely his own, presented in an elliptical and episodic structure, at times enigmatic, sometimes disjointed and loose, often poetic and fanciful.
Opening with a sequence unconnected to the remainder of the story, unless as a metaphor, yet wonderfully strange and evocative, the film then follows the travels of some monk/artisans, eventually centering on the title character, Andrei Rublev, whose work is described by one of his envious companions as beautiful yet empty, missing something at its center. This notion of unfullfillment in faith and belief and art and the social construct will run throughout the film.
The Christianity of these monk/artists is shown by turns as one of the few lights of charity and gentleness in a brutal and cruel age, and in the next instance as repressive and intolerant and narrow-minded, austere and indifferent to the natural life of humankind. The struggle for faith and meaning, and to what use one is to put not only their faith but their talent and artistry in a world of atrbitrary power & indifferent injustice, of pagan bliss and casual barbarity, are central themes in the film. In fact, faith and art are interchangeable in Tarkovsky's film, the struggle for meaning and purpose in art and how that fits in an, at times, monstrous world is the same as the struggle for meaning and purpose in religious faith, too often suppressed and overrun by the ambitions and passions of the secular world. That artistry and spirituality are at the mercy of the crassness and indifference of power is startling demonstrated with the blinding of the artisans.
Tarkovsky doesn't shrink from the brutality of the era while showing us that ignorance and suppression have a long history in human history. Amazing that he created such a film in the Soviet Union of the 1960's. This is a film with bold and shocking scenes alongside poetic and sublime passages. One could write pages describing the imagery and composition of Tarkovsky's great vision. Suffice it to say that this long, yet entrancing film is rich with very different settings, scenes and ideas. It is world class cinema, well worth the time of those interested in something beyond simple entertainment. 5 Stars all the way.
on January 23, 2003
Tarkovsky's Andre Rublev plows the same ground as Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, but with greater success. No, I haven't been smoking anything; I'm serious. A collection of metaphorically related vignettes that loosely follows the life of Russia's great medieval artist, Andrei Rublev is about nothing less than the struggle between mankind's spiritual and carnal natures. It is also one of the rare films featuring Christianity that neither belittles the faithful nor condescends to them. I'll take this film over The Robe, The Greatest Story Ever Told or even Ben Hur any day of the week.
All the same, this film is not typical wholesome family entertainment of the Disney variety. It's more like the cinematic equivalent of broccoli - you may or may not like the flavor, but it's good for you. There is nudity. There is violence. If you're an animal lover, it may give you nightmares (at least two horses and one cow probably died in the process of filming). But you know, the Bible itself is full of plenty of that kind of stuff. What makes it palatable is the moral context - the material is in service of an authentically moving spiritual journey. The film may not shy away from the ugliness of medieval Russian peasant life, but it also does not shy away from the message of redemption through grace - and I'm not referring to "grace" in an exclusively Christian context.
While grace wears Russian Orthodox garb in this film, the concept expands to occupy a more universal definition through the use of strong metaphorical imagery. Grace, it seems to suggest, is a state of mind: if you believe it is a gift from God, this film will probably affirm your faith; if not, it will won't offend you with overt evangelism.
The beauty of Andre Rublev is that, like life itself, it places its world before you in all its wonder and horror, and then lets you decide what to make of it. It strives to illuminate the human condition, rather than preach platitudes.
The best art has a way of doing that.
As for the DVD itself, Criterion has done a marvelous job of pulling together some rare documentary material, as well as enlisting the aid of Harvard film professor Vlada Petric in the creation of a somewhat dry, academic commentary track. My one complaint is that the transfer, while supposedly made digitally from a pristine 35mm print, lacks sharpness. It is also not anamorphic 16x9, which I consider an essential feature of any DVD of a film shot wider than 1.66:1.
All the same, Andre Rublev is an indispensable film for the serious cinephile's collection.
on November 24, 2002
I believe Andrei Rublev will be seen as one of the greatest films of all time, if it is not already. It is not easy to sit through its 3hrs 25mins length, because it follows no sequential plot -- a-la-Hollywood blockbuster! It passes rather through several apparently unlinked episodes in Rublev's journey that ultimately gel both for us and him as he finds his proper role in life -- to uplift through painting of churches and icons.
From the outset there is a picture of medieval life in Russia -- though it could have been true of many European countries at that time (1400-1412) -- that is so realistic, so convincing and so shocking that one's grasp of that era is immediate and forever. One sees the stabilizing role then of religion, the horror of unchecked oppression, the miserable condition of the peasant, and also the humanity that emerges from total degradation and hopelesness. I couldn't help thinking how lucky we are today and how we really ought to better value and defend the good institutions and the many contributors to our modern societies. Much of what we see in Andrei Rublev is surely not unfamiliar to what people in many Third World countries have to bear in our own era.
Andrei Rublev is clearly a film so vast in its life view and so uncommercially put together that Hollywood could not conceive of it were it not already in existence. It would be pointless and immoral to copy such a real work of art. The realism of the characters, the story on every face, the fine acting that is beyond acting are not part of Hollywood's cinematic tool box. Directing this film must have been both a self-destructive and also uplifting experience on a par with Andrei Rublev's own artistic burdens. And I can only describe the exceptional camera work by saying that if the film were stopped at any moment, each image would be a masterpiece of still photography. The lighting, the contrast, the shapes and structures leave one breathless.
Need I add that I approve of this film and am grateful to Tarkosvky for putting it together under such unlikely Soviet circumstances. I first saw it 30 years ago and now again just last Friday. It has lost nothing of its impact and value to us all.
on October 24, 2002
Art critics consider Andrei Rublev, a monk who lived from 1360 to 1430 AD, to be the finest icon painter of Medieval Russia. Both he and Theopanes the Greek (also depicted in the movie) are
categorized as members of the "Moscow School", distinguished
from prior schools within the Byzantine tradition by its humanism
Though few details are known about the historical Rublev, the film accurately portrays his environment: internecine warfare among princes, Tartar invasions, suffering peasants and a corrupt
Orthodox church. The tension between this turbulent environment
and Rublev's optimistic nature spurs the protagonist along a path of spiritual evolution, during the course of which he deliberates
on humanity, evil, and the role of the artist.
Rublev begins as an outsider: he does not take part of the common people's suffering and joy, or, at least, he does not get involved in "the world". Nonetheless, he is sympathetic to them, as evidenced in his conversation with Theophanes in the episode,"The Passion According to Andrei". Theophanes views mankind pessimistically and is more concerned with the "Last Judgement" than with worldly affairs. Rublev's opinion of people, especially the peasants, seems relatively optimistic and concerned with their plight. This
is an important moment in the movie, setting the stage for
Rublev's spiritual tribulations: Is man good or evil? Should we
resist evil? How is one to act in the world?
In later episodes, Rublev does participate in the world: carnal pleasure, violence, hope and disillusionment. Having killed a man himself, he takes a vow of silence and stops painting. He appears weary of the world. However, he gains hope once more when he sees a young
man, Boriska, cast a bell for a village. Despite all of the horror and wickedness, the villagers have seen, this work of art brings them happiness. In the end, Rublev seems to conclude that
the act of creation can bring us moments of joy (and this rejoins the opening prologue where we see a peasant joyously flying a balloon) and it is the role of the artist to lift men out of their turmoil. This revelation inspires Rublev to speak to Boriska, telling him to look at the happiness he has brought. He then invites the bell maker to go to the Trinity Monastery with him where they will paint and make bells.
The film to this point has been shot in a dismal black and white.
However, the final scene, intended to underscore Rublev's revelation is a long sumptous color shot of the full image of Rublev's famous painting, "The Three Angels of the Old Testament".
on September 4, 2002
Andrei Tarkovsky was a man of excess...excessively self-preoccupied, excessively self-indulgent, and excessively brilliant. Andrei Rubalev is his masterpiece and it's a masterpiece of excess...long, slow and hypnotic.
The film was shot in black and white, except for the final footage of icons, which is stunning. It is not, as might be supposed, actually based on a biography of Rubalev, not much information has comes down from that time period. Rather, each segment of the flim is a meditation on huge themes, Art, Sex, Belief, War, Doubt, and finally Redemption. As such, this is not a movie that you should watch as you watch other movies...for plot. Rather, the brilliance in the movie is in the images and textures...in the associations that Tarkovsky points out and in the symbols that burn into your brain.
Tarkovsky is a master of the unbelievably long shot. Some shots in his movies last for upwards of five minutes. Often, during these shots, nothing seems to happen. But if you pay close attention, the shots have their own inner motivations...they point out the symbols and have the appearance and function of dreams...watching Andrei Rubalev is like entering a vast slow dream. Once you get accustomed to the pace, it is haunting.
See this film, if you like the work of Bergman or Kurosawa. Tarkovsky ranks up there with this pantheon of filmmaking.