Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by: Andrei Konchalovsky & Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Anatoly Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolai Grinko, Nikolai Sergeyev, Nikolai Burlyayev
Tales that surround religion and the inherent struggles those structures cause seem to have such a strong Western influence. Whether it be the characters or the sect of the religion being examined, but with Andrei Rublev, the Orthodox Church of Christianity gets its time to be the center of contemplation. Along with the religious aspects, this film will give anyone much to ponder about life.
Split up into eight segments featuring different moments within 15th-Century Russia, Andrei (Anatoly Solonitsyn) travels as a painter. In his journey, he encounters several harrowing incidents that allow him to think about his religious beliefs and where it stands in his life.
Weighing in with a 3-hour runtime, Andrei Rublev feels like an epic of its themes to the sheer scope of the conversation trying to be had. Coming from the legendary Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky, its slow pace and methodical movement may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but when thoroughly examined, it truly begins an engaging discussion about faith. It does so through the conversations held by the characters, but also through the visuals that blur in the background and the score that resonates throughout the story.
The film does not run through like a typical feature, as it’s broken into 8 different segments that may not gel together perfectly as a narrative but connect thematically. For example, the prologue features a hot air balloon that a man attempts to get up in the air. In the process of elevation, other men begin to pull him down, but the man lifts it up and he takes flight. The camera then pans to see what the man can see from up above. The fields and the people that cover the land. We never see this man again or the balloon ever being referenced, but this scene sets the tone for what the other characters will experience, including when the man crashes his balloon at the end of the segment.
The protagonist of the film is Andrei as travels through the country practicing his painting. In some scenes, he travels alone and in others, he’s accompanied by colleagues. Andrei believes in the positivity of faith and it informs his artistic ability. He prefers to paint and capture God’s promises and not the threats. It leaves him at an impasse with the other men and his patrons at times. This juxtaposition occurs because Andrei is younger than his colleagues and he has seen less life along with the brutality of the world surrounding him. He lives in an idealistic world where positivity can exist when in reality, man has failed in completing God’s promises and therefore receives his threats.
This occurs in several of the segments where Andrei witnesses battle and the mistreatment of others. Jesus laid out simple commandments about love, but those could not even be followed by the people of the world. Even going back to the prologue where men tried to take down the achievements of the man trying to lift his hot air balloon. Andrei witnesses the brutality and the sheer evil that exists in the world and it takes a toll on him. He ultimately loses his faith in man because everything that occurs in the film does not support what he originally thought. It makes for a devastating realization.
Trying to review someone like Andrei Rublev intimidated me and it took me several hours to even begin typing. Much more can be written about its elegant cinematography and what each icon represents in the film. Tarkovsky makes the audience work for the answers he lays out in the film. None of it can be easily parsed through. As much as I enjoy the challenge that represents, I have to say that I found myself respecting the film more than I actually liked it. While the deeply religious themes lay an incredible foundation, I felt I connected more with something like Solaris where Tarkovsky used a similar style of storytelling to tell a more hypnotic narrative.
The influence and relevance of Andrei Rublev will forever remain. Its style of storytelling dives into some powerful themes and it all comes together eloquently in its conclusion. I find it hard to recommend it to someone unless they truly prepare themselves for the experience they’re about to have as well as any of Tarkovsky’s other work. Much more can be written because there was so much on Tarkovsky’s mind when making this film, but I’ll leave it at that. Andrei Rublev asks difficult questions and delivers uncomfortable answers.