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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

Sunday Cinema: Andrei Rublev

Andrei Rublev is a 1966 Mosfilm movie directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It was written by Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky. Anatoly Solonitsyn has his feature debut in Andrei Rublev. It had a budget of 1.3 million Soviet rubles. After one 1966 screening in Moscow, a censored version was not released until 1971. The original, full-length version is now available.

The movie is an accurate depiction of Russia during the medieval era. Medieval Russia and Orthodox Christianity are central themes. Before watching, I didn’t know who Andrei Rublev was. He was an icon painter in Russia during the 15th century. You don’t need to know medieval history or be an Orthodox Christian to identify with Rublev. His story is one that any artist can relate to or anyone who has had to put blind faith into something, someone or themselves. The movie depicts eight episodes from his life.

However, before the episodes begin, there is an odd prologue. A man attaches himself to a hot-air balloon and takes off into the sky. The camera looks down at the people on the ground. This has nothing to do with Rublev’s literal story but it is metaphorical. For me, it gave Andre Rublev a sense of divine voyeurism, as the camera often floats throughout space during the movie. The cinematography of Vadim Yusov is angelic at moments, perhaps to mimic the angels in Rublev’s famous Trinity icon.

Perhaps the most clear-cut episode is the final one, “The Bell.” In this, a young man played by Nikolai Burlyayev convinces a town that he knows the secret to bell making and, thus, he gets the commission to build the town’s bell. This episode has some legendary shots, like the Randian depiction of Burlyayev watching the first pour of molten metal.

This is a movie that warrants rewatching. Not because it is stylized like In The Mood For Love but more for the intricacies of its story like Miller’s Crossing. Don’t be surprised if you are completely confused about what is going on. That’s how I felt about most of it too. And even though it is slow and long, I want to watch it again because there is a great deal of subtilty. However, it’s not like the story is ultracomplex. In fact, it’s simple but, perhaps, the difficulty as a Westerner is having no frame of reference for the character, places or issues that plagued medieval Russia, like invading Tatars, famine and plague. Also, all the faces were unfamiliar and the wide cast of characters sometimes made it difficult to discern whose story I was watching. With that said, some reappearing faces, like the jester’s, are instantly recognizable.

Horses are symbolic in the movie. Tarkovsky said that horses, for him, symbolize life. Horses appear at intermittent and significant times throughout the movie. Perhaps it is a link between nature, life and art. Horses, a natural phenomenon, represented life, to Tarkovsky. For Rublev, art is his life and thus life is connected through the director and protagonist by art and nature, creating a trinity of connected themes. Continuing with nature and along with horses, trees seem symbolic in Andrei Rublev. At the start, when the trio of Rublev, Kirill and Daniil leave for Moscow, one of the men comments on a tree and how you take something for granted until you know it’s the last time that you’ll ever see it. Trees are also prevalent in Rublev’s Trinity, as the Oak of Mamre is one of the few things depicted in the icon. After watching the movie, I learned that Rublev’s most famous icon is Trinity. Once this was discovered, it was hard not to remember moments in the movie where three things were used. Is this why Rublev is first seen leaving for Moscow in a group of three?

If religious movies bug you, Andrei Rublev probably isn’t for you. But if you like meditating on the spirit and art, and are in the mood for a long, slow-paced movie with bleak and beautiful mise en scène, then try this Russian classic. It may leave you with more questions than answers, but I believe Tarkovsky left it all there on the screen for us to decipher over multiple watches.

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