on January 23, 2003
Tarkovsky's Andre Rublev plows the same ground as Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, but with greater success. No, I haven't been smoking anything; I'm serious. A collection of metaphorically related vignettes that loosely follows the life of Russia's great medieval artist, Andrei Rublev is about nothing less than the struggle between mankind's spiritual and carnal natures. It is also one of the rare films featuring Christianity that neither belittles the faithful nor condescends to them. I'll take this film over The Robe, The Greatest Story Ever Told or even Ben Hur any day of the week.
All the same, this film is not typical wholesome family entertainment of the Disney variety. It's more like the cinematic equivalent of broccoli - you may or may not like the flavor, but it's good for you. There is nudity. There is violence. If you're an animal lover, it may give you nightmares (at least two horses and one cow probably died in the process of filming). But you know, the Bible itself is full of plenty of that kind of stuff. What makes it palatable is the moral context - the material is in service of an authentically moving spiritual journey. The film may not shy away from the ugliness of medieval Russian peasant life, but it also does not shy away from the message of redemption through grace - and I'm not referring to "grace" in an exclusively Christian context.
While grace wears Russian Orthodox garb in this film, the concept expands to occupy a more universal definition through the use of strong metaphorical imagery. Grace, it seems to suggest, is a state of mind: if you believe it is a gift from God, this film will probably affirm your faith; if not, it will won't offend you with overt evangelism.
The beauty of Andre Rublev is that, like life itself, it places its world before you in all its wonder and horror, and then lets you decide what to make of it. It strives to illuminate the human condition, rather than preach platitudes.
The best art has a way of doing that.
As for the DVD itself, Criterion has done a marvelous job of pulling together some rare documentary material, as well as enlisting the aid of Harvard film professor Vlada Petric in the creation of a somewhat dry, academic commentary track. My one complaint is that the transfer, while supposedly made digitally from a pristine 35mm print, lacks sharpness. It is also not anamorphic 16x9, which I consider an essential feature of any DVD of a film shot wider than 1.66:1.
All the same, Andre Rublev is an indispensable film for the serious cinephile's collection.
on August 17, 2001
Tarkovksy's films are not for everyone. He is the Russian equivalent of Kubrick or Kurasawa or Welles, and he is as different from them as they are from each other. If you're expecting a conventional structure and pacing, you'll be dissapointed. Rublev requires patience.
Most people consider the film long and slow. The trick is to stop waiting for the narrative to develop and just experience the sequences as self-contained ideas. After a couple of hours you'll see it working up to something you hadn't thought possible at first. And by the two-hundred minute mark, it evolves into a complete emotional and cinematic experience.
I'm serious. It's amazing. *This* is Tarkovsky's gift.
By his own admission he was always more fascinated with the "poetry" of images than their immediate narrative value. As a result his films deliver an experience which is unique to every viewer. This is no mean feat; today directors strive to make the global audience feel "happy" or "sad" according to a pre-defined and market-oriented narrative structure. It's a cheap manipulation (like "Titanic" and the damn theme music).
Tarkovksy doesn't go there at all. He shows you something and lets you feel whatever you want. This isn't a cheap cop-out from an inept director, it's *your* experience. And a dangerous approach in a world where audiences expect to be cued when and how to react. Have you ever noticed how upset people get when left to their own emotional devices?
Tarkovsky has mastered the long-take, mise-en-scene, and the wide-screen (2.35) frame, and the Critereon transfer does it's best to present this. There are technical problems with the transfer, but having seen Rublev on a pan-and-scan VHS, the extra bucks are still worth it. And the additional resolution of DVD gives the image more texture and detail.
One of the tragedies (now being slowly rectified thanks to DVD) of modern cinema is the pan-and-scan VHS. Many lesser works can survive it ("Titanic" again!), but it has ruined almost every one of Tarkovsky's films. He composes very deliberate frames, balanced in a way that only wide-screen can accomodate ("The Sacrifice" was the exception, shot 1.66 I believe). The VHS transfers are claustrophobic and uncomfortable (showing only 60% of the image), but in their true aspect ratio his shots are spacious and carefully composed.
The accompanying materials (intervews and commentary) are interesting, but dryly presented by academics. A shame, since this is the type of film that Martin Scorcese could do a fantastic commentary for.
And be warned, there are moments of horrific violence and cruelty.
Since the Reagan administration came to power, the west has lost track of Eastern European cinema. It had (has) a style and direction as unique as the Japanese or British. Tarkovsky is one of it's gems, and no one who considers themselves a conoseur of film can go without a Tarkorvsky viewing.
My personal favourites are "Stalker", "My Name Is Ivan", and "The Sacrifice", and of course "Solaris" -- unfortunately the only one I've seen in it's Wide Aspect is "Sacrifice". But Tarkovsky is one of the greatest directors in history, and "Andrei Rublev" is still an amazing film.
Bye the way,
If you're not quite ready for the plunge into Tarkovsky, try the documentary "Andrei Tarkovsky Directs", which is an action packed account of the making of "The Sacrifice".
on October 6, 2000
Andrei Rublev is not only one of the most difficult films to describe, it is also one of the most beautiful films ever made. It flows like a long Russian novel, with interworking subplots and interwoven themes. The rich fiction created by Konchalovsky and Tarkovsky, based on the late medieval Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev, raises many important questions concerning life, the soul, and art. Above all, there is something elegantly and radiantly lyrical about the film, scene by scene. The film itself is divided into vignettes, or what I like to refer to as chapters, recounting different periods in Rublev's life; each one could be its own film, namely the last section about the bell and the young bellmaker. However, the most poetic scenes involve the Holy Fool, or Durochka, played by Tarkovsky's wife Irma Raush. Her character adds a touchingly humorous, yet tender aspect to the film; her relationship with Rublev is so sweet and almost childlike, it brings a true smile to your face. Throughout the film, Tarkovsky is able to catch the incredibly earth-shattering expressions on the character's faces, symbolzing oppression from war and Tatar raids, poverty and inequality. One simple look of an eye speaks a thousand words in this film. The vignette entitled The Jester displays some of the most wonderful examples of the human condition ever in film; the beating rain on the primitive hut combined with the tired, worn out, wretched faces of the peasants (including children, men, women, and elderly), is so realistic you can taste it. Tarkovsky is indeed a modern master, and Andrei Rublev is quite possibly his masterpiece. Tarkovsky's work ranks with so many of the great modern artists, not filmmakers, but painters and photographers: Cartier-Bresson, Freud, Picasso, Matisse, O'Keefe, Stieglitz, etc. Anchoress, a film obviously influenced by Andrei Rublev, particularly in cinematography, is recommended also for anyone who enjoys intellectually and visually impressive cinema.
on July 29, 2009
Straight up, "Andrei Rublev" is possibly my favourite film, the reason why I got turned onto cinema when I was 15 (some 14 years ago!). So the three stars are for the product rather than the film, which would get 5/5 every time from me. Secondly, I love Criterion DVDs: as a matter of fact, I received "Breathless"/"Bout De Souffle" today and I'm mightily impressed with the film transfer, packaging and extras that set has.
Much is made of the fact that this is the "uncut" version of the film. This may be so, but the twenty minutes that this version has over the Russian Cinema Council version (availaible on Artificial Eye in the U.K.) are generally not new scenes: rather they are extra shots that have been cut from the RUSCICO/AE release. For instance, when Kirill storms out of the monastery after the apparent snub by Theophanes, he beats a stray dog that chases him. In the AE release, the yelping of the dog is the only indication that he kills the animal; in the Criterion version, there is a shot of the dog writhing on the ground. This is not to indicate my distate for animal cruelty, but just that these shots don't in my opinion really add any profundidty to the film. Another example would be the jester's bare, er, posterior with a smiley face daubed on during the hut scene near the beginning, which the AE release omits: it's just bits and bobs spread throughout the film, not extra whole scenes, that's all.
This would be fine if the one-disc transfer was up the standard of the AE release (which splits the film between two discs, 99 and 86 minutes). It isn't. Perhaps it's because we are so used to good transfers onto DVD owadays, where even the no-frill Second Run and Eclipse relaeses are of a very high standard, that this release from 1998 seems sub-standard. The key is that the bit-rate is very low. I don't like the nerdy appraisal of a DVD by exact measurements of bit-rates, but it's clear that when the camera moves (for instance in the hut with the jester) the transfer isn't up to snuff. The rather washed-out look to the fantastic black and white photgraphy and the over-sized black bars further exaccerbate the irritation. Sure, ramping down 100Hz settings, black adjust, etc., the film is just about watchable, but the enormous black bars seem to be hiding the fact that this isn't a great transfer.
Great film, but get the Artificial Eye release. There are far, far better more recent Criterion discs to get before you think about getting this.
on January 29, 2000
The first time I saw Andrei Rublev I fell asleep after the first fifteen minutes. The second time I saw it I stayed wide awake for the entire viewing. I was impressed by its visual grandeur and its message so much that it is one of the five best films that I have ever seen. It is one of the first films to convince me that that excellent films can be extremely challenging to watch. Despite some of the most disturbing scenes I have ever scene, I no longer view film as a diversion but as an exploration. It is atmospheric, heavenly, gothic, spooky, dreamy, frightening, and thought-provoking. The definitive 205-minute version released by Criterion does an excellent job in restoring some very important scenes which add to the flow of the film and make it easier to understand. I highly recommend it.
on April 2, 2000
I write specifically about this Criterion DVD version of the film. The other cuts simply do not do the film justice. Some of the films most beautiful and most powerful shots are cut in half, and some of them are removed entirely in the 185 minute cut that is available on video. Although other cuts were endorsed, this is 204 minute version is how the film was originally meant to be seen, and I feel that it makes a big difference. The photography and pacing of this film is breathtaking. It is an epic in every sense of the word, but not at all in the sense of the traditional Hollywood notion of 'epic'. This is a fragmented, episodic story, where some of the episodes don't deal with the protagonist of the film at all. In some of them he is merely an observer, in others he is left out entirely. These scenes serve on a metaphorical level, not a physical one. Ultimately though, it all culminates to express the same basic thing: the need for the artist to trascend the earth, the natural world in order to reach something beyond to material, beyond the physical. And it is often about the artist's failure to do this.
I recommend alongside this, Jacques Rivette's film 'La Belle Noiseuse'. They are very different films, but they both deal with the same essential themes. And both are extremely important works of cinematic art.
on May 4, 2008
I have owned the Criterion edition of this film a long time; I recently bought the Ruscico (Russian Cinema Council) edition and think I should try to make clearer the differences. This is not a critique of Tarkovsky's work -- that is beyond my capabilities.
As you may already know, the Criterion edition is taken from Martin Scorsese's personal print and represents the penultimate version of the film, while the Ruscico edition represents the release version, which is about twenty minutes shorter. However, Tarkovsky did more than pare twenty minutes off the film -- it's actually a somewhat different film, though the differences are not major.
To begin with, the Scorsese print (Criterion) has a completely different set of credit titles and intertitles, and at that stage the film was titled "Strasty po Andreyu" (Passion of Andrei). The release version (Ruscico) is titled "Andrei Rublev" and is not merely shorter: it contains shots that do not appear in "Strasty po Andreyu" (Criterion). Commenting on the DVDs themselves, the Ruscico DVD is much better looking. The subtitles (as one might imagine) are written by someone whose native language is Russian, and that is very important to me. When the subtitles are written by an English-speaker they are rendered in English idioms and subtle, specific meanings are often lost. Sometimes one cannot even tell what a scene is about. (There is a scene in Criterion's "Ivanovo Detstvo", for example, where the English-written subs completely obscure the point of a scene, while the Russian-written English subs in Ruscico's version make it perfectly clear.) Russian-written English subtitles are sometimes ungrammatical, use idioms whose meanings are unclear to non-Russian speakers, and sometimes even inadvertantly use a word from yet another language (French, in one case that I saw), but I'll take subs written by someone whose native language is that of the film any day. In fact, if you see a version of any foreign film with English-written subs first, then see a version where the English subs were written in the film's country of origin, it will be like seeing a whole new film. (A spectacular example is the difference between Kino's "Zerkalo" [Mirror] and Ruscico's -- there is NO comparison [Ruscico wins!], except that you have to avoid Ruscico's 5.1 audio remix and select the original mono.)
Additionally, an extra of great interest is hidden away on Ruscico's "Andrei Rublev" DVD. In the individual filmographies certain titles are highlighted: these are accompanied by trailers, three of which are for Tarkovsky films. These trailers are made up largely of shots that are entirely different from anything that appeared in the final film, so should be of absorbing interest to any fan of his work.
To sum up: Although I prefer the long version represented on Criterion's disk ("Strasty po Andreyu"), the Ruscico disk has a superior image, better subtitles (to my way of thinking), and fascinating extras if you can find them. Get both DVDs.
on January 13, 2005
I think I have already summed up how I feel about this movie. Not everyone is inclined to agree. But I must say this movie has great character portrayals that can be applied to people from novels to real-life. The many groups represented in the film range from the nobility (a major social moving force as twin princes struggling for power), the religious (with the three main monks representing various attitudes toward religion), the pagans, and finally the artists. The 3 main monks are 1) the talented but confused Andrei Rublev, 2) the mediocre and self-righteous Kirill, and 3) the quiet and focused Danil. The artists Theophanes, Foma, and Boriska really keep the movie in focus just as a real art director of the movie would do. Their attitudes toward faith and art are what helps the viewer understand Rublev's own attitudes toward faith and art. Though Rublev is the main character, he is at many times in the background. The viewer is after all, meant to become Rublev, and therefore Rublev is less visual. Brilliant device by Tarkovsky!
In the end it is the characters of the "idiot girl" and the jester which cleverly help the viewer understand the some of the character and actions of Andrei Rublev. At one point in the movie, Rublev splatters paint on the wall as a sign of protest against the jealous prince who has ordered the blinding of some painters. Everyone around Andrei is baffled by his actions since he does not attempt to justify them. It is however the idiot girl who although lacks reason, has the insight to understand the violence depicted. The idiot girl after all sees the paint and mistakens it for blood and in doing so receives the correct message. The jester likewise, helps the viewer understand two things about Andrei Rublev's character. The first thing noted is that when the jester has part of his tongue cut out, he still does not waver in continuing his art of comedy. Andrei on the other hand, at one point stops painting and speaking, and as a result he willfully becomes more mute than the jester. Finally the second thing noted is that because Andrei has choosen to give up his art of painting, he has in essence become as lukewarm as his fellow monk Kiril. Andrei in fact resembles Kiril so much so, that the jester attacks him thinking he is Kiril (the monk responsible for denouncing him).
Movies like "Andrei Rublev" are rarely ever made. The director Tarkovsky was not called "the Poet of the Cinema" for nothing. His works such as "Andrei Rublev", were just that: poems. A poem like "Andrei Rublev" has lots of imagery used to convey some deeper meanings. Andrei Rublev appeals to scholars of the cinema and art technique as well as history buffs who want a social commentary along the lines of "Alexander Nevsky". But in the end, "Andrei Rublev" has a strong appeal to those who have strong religious convictions and struggle to match those convictions with their actions. The film is ultimately about individuals fulfilling their calling in life despite setbacks, be it due to social conflict or personal tragedy.
The movie is most rewarding when watched with the same patience and perseverance that one would have reading a novel by Dostoevsky. Even the opening scene of the flying balloon stimulates conversation as to its purpose and relation to the rest of the movie.
Finally, a great but often overlooked part of "Andrei Rublev" is its soundtrack. The soundtrack of "Andrei Rublev" like that of "Saving Private Ryan", is not explosive so as to be immediately ingrained in the viewer's mind (see Star Wars). The music instead sets the mood and tone of the movie. It does not distract the viewer from the visual poetry of the movie (for example there is the utmost silence during the slow-motion horse scene). So would Andrei Rublev be any different without a soundtrack? Yes it would. Even though the message of the movie would ultimately be the same, the possible religious experience drawn from it would be delayed by the lack of tone set by the music.
I cannot give this movie enough praise. It is a must-see for anyone who has strong religious convictions. "Andrei Rublev" is capable of not only stirring the depths of the soul but of also creating a predisposition and atmosphere for conversion. "Andrei Rublev" is by far my favorite movie of all time.
The DVD picture is great although the audio commentary could not be any drier. Still the restored scenes and extra Russian translations make up for it. Criterion on the whole does an excellent job transfering this movie to DVD.
Kirill says it best early in the movie: "Only with true insight can you grasp its essence".
Andrei Rublev is a great Russian (Soviet-era) film from 1966 directed by the brilliant Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (he who made "My Name is Ivan" and "Solaris"). Andrei Rublev, the title character, was a 15th century Russian painter of icons (Orthodox Christian religious paintings). The film is not so much about Andrei Rublev as it is about art (the artist) and spiritual faith surviving in a harsh world filled with brutal evil. Tarkovsky is a poet and a master of metaphor: he knows how to provoke complex and powerful ideas and emotions in ways both sublimely beautiful and grotesquely disturbing.
The plot does not follow a standard Hollywood structure that would move the story arc seamlessly from beginning to climax to anticlimax (with everything explicitly explained along the way). The film is divided into seven chapters, with each chapter involving some activity that illustrates a Universal Human Theme. Well, I think the themes are "universal"; I have been told (quite forcefully) that they are specifically Russian!
I have been told, "You have to be RUSSIAN to understand this film!" Okay, perhaps this is true. Even so, I loved it. It is visually fascinating and intellectually and emotionally powerful. The many characters are realistically diverse and complicated. The depiction of life in 15th Century Russia seems to be historically authentic.
There is quite a lot of explicit violence in this film, including human torture & mutilation and animal cruelty & killing. While the violence against humans is (obviously) faked, the killing of at least one horse is not fake (i.e., they really killed the beast). There is also nudity in this film. The film is shot in black & white (except for the very end). The English subtitles are very good.
on November 10, 1999
This film seems to be one of those which no one I meet has heard of, and yet it is a masterpiece, a real masterpiece. It still surprises me to no end that I discovered it in a Blockbuster -- and if I hadn't seen it there, I probably would never have come upon it in my life.
As stated in the synopsis, the movie tells the story of the title 15th-century painter of icons and his struggle to accept his vocation in the face of the stupidity and savagery of his era. The structure is somewhat like Joyce's _Dubliners_ (except with greater narrative continuity) in that it consists of a series of episodes, each with a particular focus, and concludes with a piece that could stand alone as a very powerful short.
Beautiful, hypnotic imagery, and, as in all the great Russian writers, a profound love for Mother Russia, despite its harsh elemental forces, and an ultimate sympathy for its people who have had to endure so much for so long.