But the films he did make are legendary; testaments to a uniquely spiritual filmmaker investigating humankind's potential for heights of creativity and expression and depths of degradation and violence. Andrei Rublev clarifies those themes with sublime artistry, as the film documents the spiritual dilemmas of a 15th century Russian icon painter. Like other Tarkovsky heroes, Rublev articulates some of the director's own ideas, including the human tug of war between the spiritual and the material. For Tarkovsky, Rublev represents a man of God whose goodness is continually challenged by exposure to a cruel, evil world and his ultimate inability to stop such injustice. Rublev's dilemmas as a just man in an unjust world are never clearer than in a scene where he kills a man who threatens to rape a deaf-mute girl, and then later watches as the girl is whisked off by a Tartar soldier.
Monumental in its historical sweep, Tarkovsky's film is nevertheless unlike any of the formulaic, grandiose historical epics viewers are accustomed to. Instead, Andrei Rublev shares a brooding, meditative quality emphasized in the director's use of long takes, a slow-moving camera and stark compositions, creating an impression of stillness that lingers long after the close-ups of Rublev's surviving works at the film's coda.
Tarkovsky always balanced his heartfelt intellectual meditations with a raw visual impact. Described as one of the most painterly of filmmakers, Tarkovsky has committed images of indelible beauty to the screen, like the black horse falling to the ground in the opening phase of the epic Andrei Rublev. His scenes of medieval Russia move between beautiful scenes of mists and mud and stark landscapes - and nightmarish, as in the aftermath of a Tartar invasion where a mass of people flee death and rape at the invaders' hands, and the world is transformed into a teeming sewer. In spite of the human atrocities he witnesses, Rublev is able to find hope amid the chaos, a message that is vividly illustrated in the film's most compelling sequence, in which a young boy struggles to sculpt and cast an enormous church bell under the most primitive conditions.
Tarkovsky was notoriously volatile when it came to providing meaning or explanations for his films. "What matters to me is that they arouse feelings," he told Sight and Sound, and on that ground, Andrei Rublev is a triumph, imbued with the director's awesome, mystical, extraordinary imagery and depth of feeling.
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Producer: Tamara Ogorodnikova
Screenplay: Andrei Konchalovsky/Andrei Tarkovsky
Cinematography: Vadim Yusov
Production Design: Yevgeni Chernyayev, Ippolit Novoderyozhkin, Sergei Voronkov
Music: Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov
Cast: Anatoli Solonitsyn (Andrei Rublev), Ivan Lapikov (Kirill), Nikolai Grinko (Daniil Cherny), Nikolai Sergeyev (Feofan Grek), Irma Raush (Idiot girl), Nikolai Burlyayev (Boriska), Yuri Nazarov (Grand Prince/his brother), Yuri Nikulin (Monk Patrikey), Rolan Bykov (The jester).
BW & C-205m.
by Felicia Feaster