Andrei Rublev (1966)

I love the idea of Andrey Tarkovsky. The concept of a masterful, artistic filmmaker with a densely philosophical focus compounded and a deeply Russian sensibility promises the cinematic excursion that I’m always seeking. In practice, I’ve always found his films underwhelming. From the ponderous but uneven Stalker to the overindulgent Solaris, I find two fantastic sides to his films that I can never reconcile.

Andrei Rublev might be the greatest discrepancy of the two, a complete and utter disparity of two conflicting sensibilities. This is, in part, because the film is trying to understand how an artist can craft a work of beauty in a world so grim and ugly. It’s a sentiment that’s impaired my few artistic efforts as I find myself either being far too grim or not nearly grim enough, making me doubt that my craft has any validity.

And it’s also the core problem of Andrei Rublev because Tarkovsky never finds a way to fully make those two forces inform each other. As the struggling artist witnesses all the violence and horror around him, the world of the film fails to inform the story. It’s all distant, simply the canvas upon which the protagonist is placed to begin his navel gazing and suffer his inner turmoil.

In large part, this could be due to the fact that so much of the time spent away from the protagonist exists in a context which is never developed or fully explained. Tarkovsky often leaves the context of his stories unexplained and that context is needed to understand the artist’s predicament. Perhaps, by the lack of context, it is to be understood in a more universal light, but even then, it becomes frustrating to watch scene after scene after scene of a conflict that has no coherent point.

This becomes my core frustration with Tarkovsky. Perhaps I’m simply missing a lens in which his films fully come into shape and context, but scene after scene either is completely redundant or has no point in developing, plot, character or ideology. Therefore, these scenes become indulgent to the point of excess and with the cut I saw of Andrei Rublev nearing the four hour mark, which becomes a significant issue.

In many ways, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Werkmeister Harmonies, a film that has no direct connection to this film, but shares the same struggle of trying to understand beauty in a world filled with such darkness. For me, Bela Tarr achieved a unified flow and purpose with each sequence while moment after moment in Rublev left me baffled, disinterested and weary.

And yet there are a number of fantastic scenes in the film that I loved. When our hero reaches his lowest point, he simply slings paint upon the wall, creating a meaningless splotch of anger, perfectly representing the only sense he can make of this world, the only way to convey what is in his heart.

Another fantastic sequence has him walking around the same room reciting from the Bible, specifically 1st Corinthians 13. For those unfamiliar, the passage speaks of the power of love, its virtues and its pure necessity. This moment is Tarkovsky at his finest, creating a fantastic character moment, which expresses profound ideas that help him begin to finally understand. In the scope of the entire film, it’s a fleeting glimpse, but that glimpse was enough to make me glad I watched the film and enough to make me wonder if I should revisit the film someday.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing