Andrei Rublev is played by Anatoly Solonitsin
I had wanted to watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1966 film, Andrei Rublev, for some time, for it is a loose telling of the life of one of Russia’s greatest icon and fresco painters, who lived in the late 14th/early 15th century (Fig. 1). Walker (2004: 32) wrote that the film was, ‘A superb recreation of medieval life that dramatizes the eternal problem of the artist, whether to take part in the life around him or merely comment on it’, and Billington (2004: 32) commented: ‘With the exception of the great Eisenstein, I can’t think of any film which has conveyed a feeling of the remote past with such utter conviction .... a durable and unmistakable masterpiece’. I was, therefore, full of anticipation.
The film is composed of eight episodes from the painter’s life and his ‘struggle to overcome both his own doubts, and the poverty and cruelty of his time, to create works of inspirational power and outstanding beauty’ (Parkinson: 2006). Rayns (2010: 34) noted: ‘Tarkovsky re-imagines him [Rublev] as a Christ-like cypher for the sufferings of a divided Russia under the Tartar invaders; a troubled visionary reduced to years of silence by the horrors that he witnesses, who finally rediscovers the will to speak – and to paint.’ Yet, like many, I found the film’s dialogue largely
impenetrable. Nevertheless, the film is a visual treat from the start, with an extraordinary opening sequence where a man takes to the air in a balloon made of animal hides (Fig. 2).
The scenes leading up to crucifixion in the snow are a Bruegel painting come to life and are remarkable for that, and it is these that stick in the mind for me (Fig. 3).
The sacking of Vladimir by the Tartars and the forces of a Russian prince (Fig. 4), is also a noteworthy piece of cinema.
In Figure 5 we see Rublev kneeling in Vladimir’s burning cathedral.
The final scene, the casting, lifting (Fig. 6), consecration and first ringing of the giant bell is the most memorable in the film.
Fig. 7 Fig. 8
Unlike Geoff Brown, I do not believe that Andrei Rublev to be, ‘Towering … one of the cinema’s most enthralling films’. Indeed, if the claims of animal cruelty are true, then the film holds no interest for me, as such a disregard for life disgusts me. However, it certainly has its moments and does, in a strange way, sometimes manage to capture the atmosphere of the medieval period. The scenes of torture (Fig. 7) and blinding (Fig. 8) do not work particularly well in my opinion, though the former is the more atmospheric.
I found the most memorable lines to be when the monk, Kirill, says of Rublev, when meeting the painter, Theophanes the Greek, near the beginning of the film, and admiring the latter’s work (Fig. 9):
‘He [Rublev] puts the paint on in a thin layer, very delicately, very skilfully, but something is missing. Fear is missing, and faith! The faith that comes from the bottom of one’s heart. And simplicity. Remember what Epiphanius said about Sergius’s virtue: “Simplicity without flourish”. That’s what is. It’s holy. Simplicity without flourish.’
Given what Kirill says about Rublev’s level of painting, the fact that after gaining some notoriety through such works (which is only briefly mentioned), and that the film concentrates solely in the early 15th century when Rublev didn’t paint, I believe Tarkovsky missed a great opportunity to impress a point. Once, after the casting of the bell, Rublev breaks his years of not speaking and says he will paint again, in my opinion (though it may seem rather clichéd) it would have been emotionally more satisfying and more effective if we had actually seen him paint, for at the end, given that the film is photographed beautifully in black and white by Vadim Yusov, it finishes with a colour sequence showing some of Rublev’s paintings. In that spirit then, I shall do likewise.
Fig. 11 Fig. 12 Fig. 13 Fig. 14
Fig. 11 – The Trinity (1411 or 1425-27), Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Fig. 12 – Saviour in Glory (1408), Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir
Fig. 13 – St. Gregory the Theologian, (1408), Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir
Billington, M. (2004) Quote from the Illustrated London News. In J. Walker (ed.) Halliwell’s Film, Video and DVD Guide 2005 (HarperCollins, London).
Brown, G. quote from in The Times, on the film’s DVD cover (Artificial Eye).
Parkinson, D. (2006) Andrei Rublev. In Kilmeny Fane-Saunders (ed.) Radio Times Guide to Films 2007 (BBC Worldwide, London).
Rayns, A. (2010) Time Out Film Guide 2011. J.Pym (ed.) (Time Out Guides Ltd.).
Walker, J. (ed.) (2004) Halliwell’s Film, Video and DVD Guide 2005 (HarperCollins, London).