Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolay Grinko
Trivia: For the scene where the cow is on fire, it was covered in asbestos, which protected it from actually being burned
The first version of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1966 black & white film, Andrei Rublev, that I ever owned was a low-grade video copy, cropped to full-screen (to “fit my television”) with very poor picture quality and a number of scenes missing. Yet even in this truncated, sub-par state, its images leapt off the screen. Featuring several unforgettable sequences that perfectly complement the film’s sometimes-tragic human drama, Andrei Rublev is a masterpiece in any form.
Though based on an actual historic figure, Andrei Rublev tells a mostly fictitious story, broken into several segments, about a 15th century monk named Andrei Rublev (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) who leaves his monastery so he can study with the famous painter, Theophanes the Greek (Nikolai Sergeyev). The movie follows Rublev on his travels, during which he witnesses such disturbing sights as a pagen ritual, and raids carried out by the invading Tartars. Coming face-to-face with violence and treachery for the first time in his life, Rublev’s faith begins to wane.
There are images in Andrei Rublev that you will never forget, including some you’ll wish you could. As was the case with many films from this period, animals don’t fare very well in Andrei Rublev; in one scene, a cow is engulfed in flames, and in another, a horse falls down a flight of stairs (legend has it this horse was obtained from a local slaughter house, and, just before its fall, was shot through the head). Yet along with the violence and despair, there are moments of true inspiration. In my favorite sequence, a young boy named Boriska (Nikolai Burlyayev), the son of a late bell maker, is commissioned by the Grand Prince (Yuri Navarov) to build a large bell. Boriska was chosen for this important task because he claimed to possess all of his father’s secrets, which he says he passed on to him before his death. Barking out orders to men much older than he is, Boriska is able to construct a perfect bell. But shortly after it’s completed, Boriska breaks down, sobbing as he falls into Rublev’s arms. He says that he lied, confessing his father told him no secrets whatsoever, meaning it was his confidence, and nothing more, that got the job done. This boy’s belief in his own abilities served as a life lesson for Rublev, who, at the time, was mired in self-doubt, his faith in God hanging by a thread. Spurred on by Boriska’s courage, Rublev is inspired to take up his paintbrush, and in the process creates a number of masterworks.
Both an intimate portrait of an artist dealing with his inner conflicts and a vivid, often brutal account of the times in which he lived, Andrei Rublev brings us into its world of chaos and violence, then reveals that, even in such conditions, there is beauty to be found. A powerful motion picture, Andrei Rublev will leave you speechless.