Today I watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966)
This film is loosely based on the life of medieval Russian painter and monk, Andrei Rublev. The film has little in the way of conventional plot, instead following a series of events, the first half based around the painting of a cathedral and the second half revolving around the outbreak of warfare and later the casting of a great church bell. The struggles of the movie is internal instead of the far more common external ones, the majority of the action is dialogue, philosophy and soul searching.
If you have heard of Andrei Tarkovsky you have probably heard of his prime stylistic trademark, immensely slow films of which this is one of, though one of the more accessible examples. As a film maker he is experimental in a completely different way from a lot of the fast paced, stylish and surreal works I often feature here; his experimentation is with realism and the use of monolithic pacing to amplify the heady themes he works with. Because his films are so spacious he can work in a level of complexity to his themes that is very rare indeed, the audience just needs to be ready for the mental exhaustion that comes with his deeply meditative style.
This particular film deals with a number of themes which Tarkovsky spins out from the basic idea of exploring the life of a spiritually and morally motivated artist in chaotic times. There are subtle parodies of the totalitarian government that Tarkovsky made this film under, especially when one considers how he frames Russian Orthodoxy as the cornerstone to their entire culture. It might be hard to think of Christianity as an oppressed religion but that was exactly the case during the oppressively atheistic Soviet regime, so what this film is doing is perhaps more radical and anti-establishment than it might play as to a modern western viewer. The handling of christian themes is really quite impressive here, not preachy or overly moralistic, instead offering up distilled nuggets of philosophy that are thought provoking and relevant to non-believers as well. It is also a film that is not afraid to question it’s main subject; it doesn’t just explore faith, it questions it and tests it in times of disaster and darkness.
Tarkovsky is a director who should be studied by all cinephiles, though appreciation of him is optional. His style is very off putting to many audiences who will find themselves snoring through the lengthy yet subdued film. But his work should be seen and analyzed because he pushes the idea of slow story telling to an educational extreme, he goes to the edge of cinematic style and brings back interesting and important lessons that continue to shape film today. His painterly style of imagery makes the subject matter here really come alive and there is also a great verisimilitude to his portrayal of medieval Russia. If you have the time to invest in this film, do it, there is a wealth of artistry here that must be seen to be understood. 5/5