My sole experience with Andrei Tarkovsky so far has been Solaris, which I enjoyed quite a bit, even with its length and admittedly languid pacing. Still, the three-plus hour epic that is Andrei Rublev did intimidate me going into it, but I seemed determined to make Tarkovsky a director that I’d officially like, given how much I liked Solaris. I needn’t have worried; sure, the film is three hours long (or well over three hours for the extended cut), but I was amazed at how much the film seemed to fly by. It’s only when you look at the entire film from an outside perspective, and see just how much is crammed into this picture, that you realize the time that is going by; otherwise, when I was completely invested in the film (which was very often), I never noticed it. I sure did notice a heck of a lot about the film that I enjoyed, though.
The film does not try to contain the entire life of the eponymous painter via a straight-up biopic, but rather explores the events in his life that inspired and shaped his art. Thus, the film is actually a series of vignettes from various periods of Rublev’s life; almost like Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, but with far fewer segments that last much longer. Some of the segments may seem especially superfluous, but each has something to bring to the table in regards to advancing either Rublev’s life events or the mindset he brings to his work. It wouldn’t have worked half as well were it not for the excellent casting decision to have then-unknown Anatoly Solonitsyn play the Russian icon, who has the sheer look of a protagonist, as well as the muted and reserved performance skills to pull it off. This also has some of the best black-and-white cinematography I’ve seen in any foreign film outside of Marketa Lazarova. It wasn’t as crisp as some other work I’ve seen, opting instead to smear the shades of white and grey together to form some sort of fresco, but it was still incredibly lovely to look at. I should, however, make mention of one other thing the film does present; there is an extended sequence at the beginning of the second half of the film, where a roving band of Tatars raid and sack the city of Vladimir, that is especially notable, both as being one of the chief spectacles of the film and for the lengths the production went in achieving some of the shots, in particular their use of animals. I’ll go no further into it, but suffice it to say, if you’re an animal lover, you might be perturbed to know that some, but not all, of the violent scenes in the raid weren’t faked.
The film, in an interesting decision, ends with a display of some of Rublev’s work, in complete color, as opposed to the rest of the film. Really, there couldn’t have been any other ending to such a film as this. The last proper segment in the film, that deals with a young bell caster and how his work revitalizes Rublev’s trust in his own talent, ends literally with a whimper, and there is no closing to the story or denouement to the tale of Rublev’s life; it just segues into the epilogue, and lets that be that. Tarkovsky knows when to leave his creations well enough alone, and when to give them a good nudge forward, and this, as a result, may very well qualify as his magnum opus, and I’m very glad to say that I enjoyed it. Solaris hit a few more of my personal checkboxes just being a sci-fi, but I might have to objectively call in favor of this one as the better work. If you can stand the running time, this is certainly one to make the time to see, especially if it ends up being your first Tarkovsky. You may not want to start with what may very well be his best, but this just makes such a great opening door into the director’s work that I wouldn’t want to start someone off on anything else.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10