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Andreiv Rublev charts the life of the great icon painter through a turbulent period of 15th Century Russian history, a period marked by endless fighting between rival Princes and by Tatar invasions. Written by
L.H. Wong <email@example.com>
Andrei Rublev (alternately transliterated as Andrei Rublyov) is an epic film created by the Soviet-era director, Andrei Tarkovsky. It was financed and created during a brief cultural thaw in East-West relations, marked by the end of Kruschchev's reign. Within reason, the 205 minute director's cut represents exactly what Tarkovsky wanted in the movie. Unfortunately for Tarkovsky and for us, Kruschev was deposed shortly after filming began, and the 205 minute version was not seen until twenty five years after its creation. The Breszhnev-era censors first trimmed 15 minutes from it, then censors and marketers trimmed more. The shortest known version has been truncated to 145 minutes. Even more sadly, Tarkovsky was never again to get approval for the projects he really wanted to film, or an adequate budget to film the ones that did get approved.
Fortunately for us, this movie, recently rereleased in a DVD transferred from a pristine 35mm print, may now be viewed intact, and it is one of the great triumphs of mankind's stay on the planet. It is a masterpiece almost without flaw. The beautiful painterly images follow one another in breathtaking succession. At least three of the eight chapters, if taken individually, could stand alone as separate masterpieces.
The ostensible subject is the life of Andrei Rublev, a 15th century monk who is renowned as Russia's greatest creator of religious icons and frescoes. Rublev himself, however, is merely a useful device. Little is known about him, and most of the episodes in the movie come straight from Tarkovsky's imagination of what might have been. Sometimes one must ignore the facts to get to the truth.
The movie is not about one talented monk, but about Russia, and Rublev stands in as a useful symbol since he lived in a time when he could personally witness two of the key elements in the development of Russia's unique culture: the growing force of Byzantine Christianity, and the Mongol-Tatar invasions. In addition he was an artist and a thinker, and experienced first-hand the difficulty of following those paths in Russia. Rublev's own inner conflicts allow the filmmaker to illuminate thoughts on the pagan and the sacred, the nature of art, the relationship of the artist to the state, what it means to be Russian, and what it means to be human.
It is beautiful, mystical, and profound, but the truly inspiring aesthetics are matched with complete technical wizardry. I simply don't know how some of the shots were created. One I do understand, and stand in awe of, is a continuous single camera shot, just before the church door is breached by Tatar invaders, which involves action in several different locations at multiple elevations as well as the correct timing of hundreds of extras and horses. It makes the first scene of Touch of Evil look like a high school film project.
It is a difficult movie to follow. One might liken it to James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake as a work of genius so monumental and complex, and so disdainful of traditional narrative form, that it requires extensive thought and study to understand it. And even after studying it, watching it repeatedly, and reading Tarkovsky's own comments about it, one still finds it opaque in many ways.
Tarkovsky was free to create the work of art he wanted, without concern for profit. The original 205 minute cut was also free from outside censorship. He used this freedom to realize his personal artistic vision. There is no other movie like it, and there may never be. Score it 11 out of 10.
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