Friday, July 25, 2008

Target #226: Andrey Rublyov / Andrei Rublev (1969, Andrei Tarkovsky)

TSPDT placing: #48

Just as Andrei Rublev faced doubt about whether or not, having sinned, he could continue his celebrated iconography, I likewise find myself in two minds about Andrei Tarkovsky's film. My experience with the director's other work is, as usual, limited, but I still couldn't shake that persistent expectation that I would love Andrei Rublev (1969). There is certainly much to love about it, but my appreciation for the film can best be described as admiration rather than affection, and, though I can speak with only the utmost praise for Tarkovsky's achievement, it doesn't occupy that exclusive space close to my heart. The film is a deeply-personal religious work, an examination of faith and moral values, and so perhaps it's inevitable that the film didn't leave such a deep impression, considering my preference towards atheism; one unfortunately cannot discard all personal convictions for the mere purposes of appreciating a work of art. I do, however, like to think that the majesty of cinema, in most cases, is able to transcend religious boundaries.

Andrei Tarkovsky released his first feature-length film, Ivan's Childhood, in 1962. Even prior to its release, the director had already expressed interest in filming the life of great Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev, even though very little is actually known about his life. Working with a screenplay written by himself and Andrei Konchalovsky, Tarkvosky began filming in 1964, and a 205-minute cut was screened for a private audience in Moscow in 1966. The critical response, however, was mixed, and sizeable cuts were made to the film's running time, before a 186-minute version screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969. I'm not entirely sure which version I ended up watching; the time counter indicated somewhere around 165 minutes, though my brief research couldn't uncover any major missing sequences. In hindsight, I should probably have held out for longer and acquired the Criterion Collection DVD, which restores the picture to its four-hour glory. In several years' time, when I inevitably decide to revisit Tarkovsky's film, I'll make certain to do just that.

Andrei Rublev is divided into nine distinct segments, including a colour epilogue displaying Rublev's weathered icons as they exist today. They each explore a facet of the great painter's life, placing particular emphasis on his faith in God and how it relates to his work on frescos and icons. Interestingly, though Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn) himself appears in most of the stories, he is often hidden in the background, a passive observer on the behaviour of others, including Kirill (Ivan Lapikov), who is jealous of Rublev's recognition, and young Boriska (Nikolai Burlyayev), who successfully casts a bell using faith rather than knowledge. One consequence of this narrative format is a lack of cohesiveness in Tarkovsky's storytelling. We adequately follow the plot of each segment, but, as the whole, the film doesn't seem to build towards any notable climactic revelation – the completed film is equal to the sum of its parts, which is still very impressive, but pulls it short of being a masterpiece. Once again, however, I must acknowledge that the 205-minute version may potentially correct this problem.

One statement that can not be disputed, however, is that Andrei Rublev really is a beautiful piece of film-making. Vadim Yusov's black-and-white photography captures the exquisite delicateness of nature with almost heartbreaking intricacy; even the raindrops of a midday shower are imbued with the gentle elegance of the Heaven from which they ostensibly fell. Tarkovsky finds simple beauty in the quiver of a tree branch in the breeze, the leisurely flow of a river, herds of livestock fleeing from an aerial balloon. In portraying the complete opposite, the destruction of nature, the director is capable but not quite the master he is otherwise. The raiding of Vladimir by a troop of Tatars was obviously supposed to be the centrepiece of the picture, but Tarkovsky underplays every detail to such an extent that his "chaos" ultimately winds down into a staged conflict. Compare this sequence with Sergei Bondarchuk's burning of Moscow in War and Peace (1967), in which one feels as though he has descended into the fires of Hell, and the contrast is telling.

Currently my #2 film of 1969:
1) Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger)
2) Andrey Rublyov {Andrei Rublev} (Andrei Tarkovsky)
3) Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen)

What others have said:

"The key is that the events in the film illuminate Rublev's state of mind -- or rather they show what Tarkovsky imagines to be Rublev's state of mind, since few facts are known about the painter's actual life story. In that way, Rublev's character here is emblematic of The Artist, particularly one torn between a devotion to the spiritual and the nagging sensation that, perhaps, there is a great hypocrisy behind much of what masquerades as spirituality."

"Lacking the cult credentials of Tarkovsky's later and more immediate sci-fi films Solaris and Stalker, Andrei Rublev delivers something more austere; a story of oblique mysticism that styles the artist as a Christ-like figure crucified by the brutality of the age as he wanders in search of redemption and - what may perhaps be ultimately the same thing - inspiration. Rublev becomes Tarkovsky's own canvas, and it is on him that the filmmaker paints a vision of his belief in art as a means of rediscovering the spiritual."

"Based on the life of fifteenth century Russian monk and icon painter Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solonitzine), this magnificently mounted epic film follows his experiences in a Russia ravaged by Tartar invaders. Rublev is shown during various times of his life--the period is vividly recreated in all its violence. The movie represents that very rare hybrid, an epic that is highly personal, expressing the feeling of an artist who is in inherent and endemic conflict with the surrounding society and its oppressive institutions."

1 comment:

tosser/ressot said...

I love this movie. I don't know what it all means or what Tarkovsky's trying to say, but I love it all the same. It's so indelibly rich in atmosphere and content. Fantastic.