Andrei Rublev (1966): Russian master filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s treatise on creative freedom and spirituality

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andrei rublev, andrei tarkovsky
Andrei Rublev (1966) - Original Title: Andrey Rublev - By Andrei Tarkovsky
Our Rating: 9.5
IMDb Ratings: 8.2
Genre: Biography Drama |  History
CastAnatoliy Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolay Grinko
Country: Soviet Union
Language: Russian Italian Tatar
Runtime: 165 min
ColorColor (Sovcolor) | Black and White

Andrei Rublev is a 1966 Russian motion-picture directed by Russian master filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. The movie presents a semibiographical account of Andrei Rublev who is considered to be the greatest medieval Russian painter of Orthodox icons and frescoes. Andrei Rublev is set against the sumptuous, albeit grotesque backdrop of the 15th century Russia. Like an epic Russian novel, Andrei Rublev—also known as The Passion According to Andrei—not only beautifully depicts the caricatures of its wide array of characters but also poignantly portraits the Russian soulTarkovsky not manages to capture the soul of a passionate artist who, lost in the mediocrity of his time, is forced to question the veracity of his own genius, but also succeeds in presenting a kaleidoscopic snapshot of a highly tumultuous phase of Russian history. 

Russian Actor Anatoliy Solonitsyn as Andrei Rublev
 Russian Actor Anatoliy Solonitsyn as Andrei Rublev
Andrei Rublev is beautifully presented in form of seven chapters and a prologue and an epilogue with each chapter allegorically depicting a different theme. Through Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky demonstrates that spirituality lies at the very core of creative freedom and it is this connect with the divine (whether alleged or ultimate) that gives the artist his inspiration. Andrei Rublev also talks about the self-inflicted mediocrity of existence that slowly but steadily leads to poverty of thought, subsequently leading to a state of mental stagnation. Tarkovsky brutally touches upon the duality of art: as a healer as well as a punisher: For those who are true to themselves, art can serve be a great healer while for those who doubt their own abilities, art can be a merciless punisher. In Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky also expatiates upon the hypocrisies associated with human existence. Tarkovsky professes subjugation to the omnipotence of art, although not as a symbol of accepting its authority but rather as a gesture of acknowledging its greatness. It wouldn't be far-fetched to imagine that through the medium of Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky tries to alleviate his own artistic suffering that owing to the perpetual ignorance, indifference and brutality of the ruck has become a quotidian reality for an artist.

russian moviemaker, andrei tarkovsky
Russian Maestro Andrei Tarkovsky
Before I go any further, let me first confess that while Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa happens to be my all time favorite movie-maker, a very near second is Russian maestro Andrei Tarkovsky. This being said, I must also assert that while Kurosawa is the master of the ‘Simple’, Tarkovsky is indeed the master of the ‘Visceral’. No other auteur, perhaps with the likely exception of Bergman, Bunuel and Fellini, has succeeded in besieging this uncharted avenue with such an imperial sense of poise and finesse. 

stalker, andrei tarkovsky
A Still from Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker
Tarkovsky glides through these bizarre, alienated territories with an ease and comfort of a quixotic artist lost in his art to such an extent that to a less keen observer it would appear to be a mere act of self-indulgence demonstrated by a narcissist who, because of being overwhelmed by his own arrogance, is incapable of doing anything more productive, but a more perspicacious eye is ought to know better, for beneath this facade of nonchalance lies a consummate yet selfless showman who, being propelled by the innocence of his artistic fervor, is capable of  giving much more to his audience than what he could possibly keep for himself. Swedish maestro Ernst Ingmar Bergman said of Takvovsky: “When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn't explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally.”

Andrei Rublev, Kirill meets Theophanes the Greek
Kirill meets Theophanes the Greek 
Andrei Rublev, like most of Tarkovsky’s works, is more than the sum of its parts. In Andrei Rublev, Andrei Tarkovsky perspicaciously and punctiliously touches upon a multitude of conflicting as well as mutually exclusive themes: existentialism, spirituality, theology, metaphysics, empiricism, objectivism, politics, etc. In 1961, during filming his debut feature film Ivan's Childhood, Tarkovsky made a proposal to his production house for a film on the life of Andrei Rublev. Tarkovsky and his co-screenwriter Andrei Konchalovsky researched for more than two years to develop the script. It was only in 1964 that the script was finalized and the filming began. 

An brief Interlude b/w Andrei and a  Pagan Girl
A brief Interlude b/w Andrei and a  Pagan Girl 
Andrei Rublev presents to the viewers a bunch of creative but complex charactersincluding the Jester; the monks: Andrei, Kirill, and Danil; Theophanes the Greek; and the  young Bellmakermost of whom are either the victims of their own vanity or the lack of it; Tarkovsky uses these convoluted caricatures as a means to portray the different human personas viz. optimistic, pessimistic, idealistic, humanistic, opportunistic, sadistic, etc. 

A Still from Andrei Rublev: The Prologue
Andrei Rublev: The Prologue
Andrei Rublev also serves to be a repository of some of the greatest film sequences ever filmed in the history of cinema. This includes a bizarre prologue depicting a man taking a hot air balloon ride to escape an ignorant mob, an infamous orgy scene that’s depicted as part of some pagan ritual, a Jester getting arrested for mocking the Boyars, Kirill’s rendezvous with Theophanes the Greek, and the casting of a bell for the Grand Prince by the opportunist son of a dead bellmaker. 

A Still from Andrei Rublev: The Jester
Andrei Rublev: The Jester
The movie's final sequence depicts some real works of Andrei Rublev in form of a montage as the viewer finally gets to witness (in the literal sense) the artistic genius of a truly great artist.  The above mentioned scenes and a dozen or so more are highly symbolic in nature owing to which they can be interpreted in more than just one way and perhaps that’s what makes multiple viewings absolutely essential. 

Owing to its controversial nature, the movie couldn’t be released domestically in the early going and it was only in 1971 that a heavily edited version was released in Soviet Union. Andrei Rublev's grotesque imagery coupled with its picturesque cinematography
Andrei Rublev,The Casting of the Bell
Andrei Rublev: The Casting of the Bell
high on detail with dream-like long takesgives it a poetic feel. Andrei Rublev is an unforgettable cinematic experience that gets better with each viewing and is a living testament to the timelessness of cinema. One more aspect of Andrei Rulev that's worth mentioning is that despite it's rebellious subject and contradicting themes, the movie has an undercurrent of subtlety that balances it and prevents it from going overboard—something that Tarkovsky always took care of ever so meticulously.  

Andrei Rublev consoles the young Bellmaker
Andrei Rublev consoles the young Bellmaker
With Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky makes cinema touch new heights and depths and yet we barely get to witness Tarkovsky's signature mysticism and phantasm—the motifs predominant in his later works; Andrei Rublev is a great means to get acquainted with Tarkovsky’s style of moviemaking before delving into his more personal works like Solyaris (1972), Stalker (1979), Nostalghia (1983), and The Sacrifice (1986). Andrei Rublev brings to the fore the artistic yearnings of a quintessential artist and represents a kind of cathartic cinema that owing to its profundity can be tough to imbibe in the early going but has huge rewards for those who are patient and are willing to delve deep enough to savor its true essence. 

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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Andrei Rublev Trailer

Previous Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Next Review: Stalker (1979)

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  1. This is a great review.  I'm still entranced by what I saw.  I'm going to re-watch it again later in the summer for my Auteurs piece on him this coming August.  He's truly one of the great filmmakers out there.  Dude needs more love.

  2. Thanks Steve! Yes, with Tarkovsky, multiple viewings are extremely essential. He is my second favorite after Kurosawa!!! 

  3. Great review! This is a film I loved at first sight! I'll need a revisit since it's been more than ten years since I watched it.

  4. I am really glad you liked it, Michael! Andrei Rublev was the movie that introduced Tarkovsky to the whole world. In a way it can also be looked upon as a biography of a tormented artist (which easily could have been Tarkovsky himself) and that's what makes it so special. Each and every scene is just perfect!!!

  5. Good Job as always Murtaza !! I was trying to decide between this and Stalker to put in my Blindspot lineup next year. Thanks for helping me decide. :)

  6. Thanks Shantanu... I am really glad you liked it. Btw, I suggest you to first read my review of Stalker (on my blog) first before making up your mind!!! :-)

  7. Murtaza, a well-written review. Congrats. I probably expected too much from this film--I still rate 'Solaris," "Stalker," and "Sacrifice" as superior works compared to this one. The theology and the Russian "soul" (the favorite theme of Andrei Konchalovsky, who co-wrote the script) dominates the film, just as Tarkovsky's family dominated "Mirror." The three movies that I like so much, in contrast, deal with more universal issues, which is probably why I like them so much. Of course, I have yet to see "Nostalgia."

  8. Thanks for those kind words of motivation, Sir! I haven't seen Sacrifice yet and I need to watch Nostalgia again so as to get a better insight into it. Stalker and Solyaris are my favorite Tarkovsky films as well... undoubtedly, they are in a class of their own. In fact, very few works of cinema that I have seen can match them in their brilliance. Though it may not be in the same league, I still love Andrei Rublev as a great work of art. Besides, it's also the movie that gave Tarkovsky the much deserved international recognition... and he never looked back. In a way it can also be looked upon as a biography of a tormented artist (which easily could have been Tarkovsky himself) and that's what makes it so special for me.

  9. A small clarification. "Andrei Rublyev" is indeed a great film for me as well. There are segments of the film that are stupendous. They surpass the quality of most American films. But in comparison, the later Tarkovsky works appear more elegant. My guess is the problem has much to do with the divergence of perspectives between Tarkovsky and Konchalovsky. They worked together on only two films--"Andrei Rublyev" and Tarkovsky's diploma film "The violin and the steamroller" And both directors are 'thinkers' and were close collaborators initially as co-scriptwriters.

  10. I also must clarify that all this time I was completely oblivious of Andrei Konchalovsky's contribution to the movie. I must thank you (my readers will surely benefit from it) for throwing in the perspective.


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