Friday, July 26, 2013

July Blind Spot: Andrei Rublev

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
Because of one man at the helm – Andrey Tarkovskiy. About a year ago, I saw a Russian film, The Return(2003), by director Andrey Zvyaginstev. I liked it and I even wrote a post about it but about half way through the movie I realised that it was my first Russian film ever.  When I looked around for some more movie names, one that kept popping up in the discussion was Tarkovskiy. So while doing the list, I decided to cater to this particularly large blind spot by putting Andrei Rublev(1966) on the list and if Hulu didn’t have Solaris(1972) available for free, this was to be my initiation to this great director.

So, what is the story about?
Let me first come very clean and say that I had no prior knowledge of Andrei Rublev either as a person or as a painter. According to Wikipedia, he is considered as the greatest Russian medieval painter of orthodox icons and frescos. Andrei Rublev is a story of his life but since there is very little that is known about him and even littler that can be actually ascertained, it is said to be only loosely based on it. According to IMDb, there are multiple versions of it with varying lengths ranging from 145 minutes to whooping 205. One I saw was smack in the middle, with 175 minutes of runtime. Film is divided into two distinct parts and each of the part is further divided into total 7 chapters, epilogue and prologue which have absolutely nothing to do with the movie itself.

First part contains four chapters which mainly introduce us to Rublev and various facets of his personality such as his faith, his philosophy of life and his perception of Russian people or even humanity in general. These four chapters are almost like four short films with few common characters. I am sure they can even work well as stand-alone shorts or rather they will work well as stand-alone shorts because when seen together they lack some cohesiveness or a sense of progression of story. Take the third chapter called The Feast, 1408 for example. It covers an encounter Andrei and his fellow monks have with a nudist, pagan group. The story makes perfect sense for 20-odd minutes it lasts for but has absolutely no connection to anything before or after.

As we enter the second half, the remaining three chapters have much more to glue them together plus in a typical mainstream way, there is a lot of action that goes on as well. Tatars invade, Rublev is forced to fight, be violent and it affects him deeply. After a gap of many years, he returns to the monastery but stops painting; he even stops talking for many years, until in the final chapter he witnesses a casting of a huge bell and turns his life back around to produce many of his great works that he is known for even now.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
I believe I have seen my fair share of art-house films. I know they are not necessarily spelled out for you. Andrei Rublev doesn’t go easy on you either. There are many philosophical discussions about the way of life and religion and their beliefs. But with no background whatsoever of either Tarkovskiy or Rublev, I found it hard to connect with them. First part especially isn’t really much accessible. Second half has some link between the chapters, is more dramatic and hence comparatively, much more accessible. However while judging the film overall, even I don’t know if I will be able to say I liked it or not right now. Since I am following this general pattern for all the Blind Spot entries this year, I'll stick to it but everything I’ll say below is more like my observations. Only thing I know for certain is despite the predominantly negative tone of these notes, it kept me interested for all the three hours of it and I sure liked it much more than Solaris(1972), my first exposure to Tarkovskiy films. I think the more I’ll know about Tarkovskiy and this film, the more I will be able to comprehend it and form some opinion of it. Right now, my impression is too malleable.

- I am not sure if it is the editing or the way they are shot, but lot of scenes segue into one other. Like in one scene you have Forma and Rublev talking about Forma and in the next, Theophanes the Greek and Rublev talking about talking their faith on Russian people and in humanity in general, or lack of it. Two conversations have no matching point but the later starts almost like a natural progression of previous scene.

- Another think that strikes me is completely non-heroic introduction of Andrei Rublev. Whatever may be the type of the film; we are usually told upfront, maybe by the way frame is set or by the background music or even by his own actions, that he is the protagonist when we first see the character. We’ll be mainly following him for the next three hours. There is almost 10 minutes of film between the first time we see Rublev and first time we are told he is Andrei Rublev.

- It has no sense of location to it and I guess it doesn’t even matter. At the start of each chapter, it gives you the year we are in and that is all we get to give us sense of timing as well. With no background of the subject and lack of either time or location, Andrei Rublev works rather as a series of disjointed vignettes of various events, jumping off one to the next in chronological order, in one man’s life. Whether this is a sensible thing or a folly is up to the individual.

Trinity - One of Rublev's Masterpieces
After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
To tell you the truth, I don’t think I am in the least bit qualified to answer this question. I am finding myself very inadequate to comment on such a revered masterpiece by one of the most respected directors of World Cinema, especially in Art-House cinema, for the same reason you won’t find me commenting on another giant that often, Ingmar Bergman, even though I have seen about dozen of his films – I don’t think I have understood them enough to add something to the discussion. Is it essential? Well, for anyone remotely interested in art-house cinema, Tarkovskiy certainly is and being one of his most well-known masterpieces, that should in turn qualify Rublev as essential as well. So, basically yes, it is an essential film in every sense of the word given that you know what you are signing up for.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
Putting this film onto the list was all about opening new doors, getting more exposure in Russian cinema as well as in Tarkoskiy’s filmography. If we discount couple of Eisenstein’s silent films, two films I talked about in the introduction are only Russian films I had seen prior to this. Given the fact that I hated Solaris, even though it isn’t one of the most accessible films I have seen, Andrei Rublev reassures enough me to look for more of his work. It will also encourage me to look for some more Russian notable directors like Aleksandr Sokurov to dig into their filmographies as well. Hopefully, I will get a chance to dig deeper into them soon.


  1. This film is still a blind spot for me, probably due to its lengthy running time. I'm sure I'll watch it in a few weeks before I do my 1966 ballot, though. :)

    1. I understand that and its slow pace doesn't hemp much either but if it counts, I think it was worth it's time.


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