Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Legendary Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's biopic of legendary Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev is a most unusual movie. Epic, but intimate. Lengthy, but not overlong. Insightful, but enigmatic. Tarkovsky set up the movie as an 8 sectioned look at the monk's life at different stages. There are 2 versions of the movie, the original 205 minute version (which is what I watched) and the 186 minute version Tarkovsky was forced to cut down due to studio pressure, and which ultimately Tarkovsky said he preferred. But either way, Andrei Rublev is a fascinating movie that is often cited as one of the best ever made.
I won't bother with a plot synopsis, since the movie isn't exactly plot driven. But Tarkovsky explores a lot of things here through Andrei's journey. Andrei ponders the place of the artist in society a lot. What is the point of painting religious icons when there's so much violence, death, chaos, and sin around us? Andrei has that crisis of faith, even taking a years long vow of silence at one point in his life. But Tarkovsky also views things through the lens of some of the other people in Andrei's life, including the monks that are his mentors in his early years, as well as a Greek painter who served as a later mentor, and eventually a young man taking on the huge task of casting a bell for the Prince. This movie is populated with fascinating characters more than just our title protagonist.
It's also, like Tarkovsky's other work, visually wonderful. Tarkovsky just had a special way with framing, camera movement, and meditative narrative. This movie is long, there are extended periods of silence, and often episodic movies lost their steam as inevitably some episodes are more interesting than others. But not here. Because Tarkovsky gives us snapshots of these times, most of the sections are in the 20-30 minute range, none outstay their welcome, and something about the way Tarkovsky shoots it, I was always interested by what was happening on screen.
Weirdly though, I don't think it's an out and out great movie. I liked it a lot, but I didn't love it. I was interested in each section, but I wasn't fascinated. I don't find anything about it bad in any way, but it's not exceptional either. I suppose it is exceptional that Tarkovsky made a 3 1/2 hour movie that I don't think was too long, but I also don't wish it was longer. An odd reaction, but we'll see how this one grows in my mind.